Welcome to the NBA Fantasy Forecaster, your weekly look at the NBA schedule and its implications for fantasy basketball owners.
Honestly, I can't wait for the NBA season and fantasy hoops to get started. In fact, I'm so excited that I spent Friday morning studying the first two months of the 2013-14 NBA schedule. But I'll get to that in a moment. First, please indulge me while I review the ground rules for those who aren't familiar with this feature.
The Forecaster is written primarily -- not exclusively, but primarily -- for owners in weekly lineup leagues. However, the accompanying schedule grid has something for everybody. For the benefit of owners in leagues that allow for daily lineup changes, you'll find ratings for each NBA game. Owners in weekly lineup leagues should refer to weekly schedule ratings for each NBA team (far right column). All ratings are based on how NBA teams defend their opponents in terms of fantasy categories like 3-pointers made, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, etc.
Note that a significant factor in the weekly ratings is simply the number of games. For instance, as one of only three NBA teams with four games in Week 1, the Orlando Magic score a high rating for their weekly schedule, even though their opening-night matchup with the defensive-minded Indiana Pacers rates as only a 1. On the flip side, the Denver Nuggets play just twice in Week 1, but their individual matchups with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers both receive 10 ratings. In short, good matchups mean different things if you're setting your lineup once a day or once a week, and our ratings will reflect this.
One other important thing about the ratings: For this week, they're based entirely on stats accumulated during the 2012-13 season. For now, it's all we have to go on. With many NBA teams, last year's stats will provide a decent guide, but you'll need to keep an open mind. For instance, the Nuggets may not be as free-wheeling as they were under George Karl. And the clearly undermanned Philadelphia 76ers no longer have Doug Collins to enforce a plodding pace. I would expect rebuilding teams like the Sixers and Phoenix Suns to be prime matchups all season, but that won't be reflected in the ratings immediately. Just understand that the ratings will become more meaningful going forward. This season's statistics will be incorporated gradually beginning next week. Once we get about a month in, the ratings will be based entirely on 2013-14 numbers.
Finally, note that the discussion here is fairly narrow. On a standard fantasy roster you have 10 starters and three reserves. Odds are that your top seven to eight of your players are automatic, week-in, week-out starters as long as they're healthy. The Forecaster is about helping you figure out how to fill those last two or three spots in your lineup. The focus is almost exclusively on players who either occupy the end of your roster or are available in free agency. Sure, I'd love to make my case that Anthony Davis is a first-round talent, but this isn't the place. (Seriously though, the Unibrow will be beastly this season.)
Let's start with some information about the overall 2013-14 NBA schedule -- at least, what amounts to the 2013 part of it. The information that follows covers the first nine weeks of the season, ending on Sunday, Dec. 29. (Note: Thanks to Tristan Cockcroft for setting up the Google Docs spreadsheets to make this process easier and quicker. Any counting errors are my own.)
From Opening Night through Week 9
27 games (1 team): Washington Wizards (12 home, 15 away).
28 games (3 teams): Chicago Bulls (13 home, 15 away); New Orleans Pelicans (13 home, 15 away); Toronto Raptors (13 home, 15 away).
29 games (5 teams): Denver Nuggets (13 home, 16 away); Indiana Pacers (15 home, 14 away); Memphis Grizzlies (17 home, 12 away); Phoenix Suns (15 home, 14 away); Sacramento Kings (17 home, 12 away).
30 games (11 teams): Boston Celtics (16 home, 14 away); Brooklyn Nets (15 home, 15 away); Cleveland Cavaliers (15 home, 15 away); Dallas Mavericks (15 home, 15 away); Miami Heat (16 home, 14 away); Milwaukee Bucks (15 home, 15 away); New York Knicks (16 home, 14 away); Oklahoma City Thunder (15 home, 15 away), Orlando Magic (16 home, 14 away); Philadelphia 76ers (15 home, 15 away), Portland Trail Blazers (15 home, 15 away).
31 games (4 teams): Atlanta Hawks (16 home, 15 away); Charlotte Bobcats (18 home, 13 away); Los Angeles Lakers (15 home, 16 away); Minnesota Timberwolves (14 home, 17 away).
32 games (4 teams): Detroit Pistons (16 home, 16 away); Golden State Warriors (15 home, 17 away); Los Angeles Clippers (15 home, 17 away); San Antonio Spurs (15 home, 17 away).
33 games (2 teams): Houston Rockets (17 home, 16 away); Utah Jazz (14 home, 19 away).
Most games: 33, Rockets and Jazz
Fewest games: 27, Wizards
Most home games: 18, Bobcats
Fewest home games: 12, Wizards
Most away games: 19, Jazz
Fewest away games: 12, Grizzlies
Fantasy implications: The games all even out in the end, but the differences in between can be significant. From now until late December, the Rockets and Jazz play about 20 percent more games than the Wizards. Their schedule is about 10 percent larger than it is for the 16 NBA teams that play 29 or 30 games through the first nine weeks. While none of this will make you regret drafting John Wall, it's a reason to feel even better about snaring Gordon Hayward (one of the late movers in ESPN.com snake draft leagues). In roto formats especially, it never hurts to take the games in the short-term.
5-game weeks: Clippers, Week 4 (Nov. 18-24); Rockets, Week 9 (Dec. 23-29).
J.J. Redick went undrafted in about 25 percent of ESPN.com leagues. If you have an early roster opening, he's someone you could stash with an eye on Week 4.
Kings: 15 of their first 22 at home.
It's not just that the Kings have a ton of home games. Over the first seven weeks of the season, Phoenix is the farthest they travel from Sactown. Is this something fantasy owners can exploit? Most likely, no. DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas had nearly imperceptible home/away splits last season. But the home court does matter in the NBA. In 2012-13, the Kings earned 20 of their 28 wins at home. And young players are typically more comfortable on familiar hardwood. So maybe touted rookie Ben McLemore gets his career off to a fast start with this schedule.
Week 1 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").
This week's NBA schedule is likely the most balanced slate you'll see all season. The Lakers, Heat and Magic play four times, the Nuggets play twice and everyone else has three games. With Denver, I wouldn't hesitate to start Ty Lawson, and I figure JaVale McGee will get his blocks. It's probably best, though, to bench Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, who've both spent much of the preseason injured.
If you're not happy with your post-draft point guard situation, consider Reggie Jackson, who averaged 16.5 points, 6.0 assists and 1.3 steals in the preseason. If he comes to grips with his limitations -- Jackson is a career 22.3 percent shooter from downtown -- he'll provide an early boost as Russell Westbrook's fill-in. In Week 1, the Thunder face two teams that will likely miss the playoffs (the Jazz and Suns) and another that could struggle defensively (the Timberwolves).
Good luck to everyone this season, and note that the next and future installments of the NBA Forecaster will be published on Friday afternoons.