NBA teams go through training camp to get ready for the season. Then these teams (at least the good ones) go through the season with the idea of being at their best for the playoffs.
It's worth keeping this in mind as you read the Fantasy Forecaster, because we also strive to improve throughout the season. The ratings that we compile for teams' daily matchups and weekly schedules evolve over time. So naturally, as teams play more games and we collect more data, the ratings become more meaningful.
For the first three weeks of this season, the ratings data we used were based in part on stats from the 2011-12 NBA season. Last season, we thought that James Harden was a franchise cornerstone for the Oklahoma City Thunder and wondered whether the Charlotte Bobcats (break 'em up, they've won three straight!) were the worst team in NBA history. In short, things change. Using last year's data isn't a perfect solution, but neither is relying on a tiny sample size of current data.
But as we enter Week 4, the schedule ratings are now based entirely on data from this NBA season. It's still early, but it's getting better. And it will keep getting better.
Week 4 at a glance
"R" matchup ratings are based on 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 to 10 for that team's weekly schedule ("R").
A complementary feature to the Fantasy Forecaster is the Weekly Schedule Grid. Fantasy owners -- particularly those in leagues where lineups are set weekly -- can use this tool to examine the schedule over the near term.
For instance, the grid shows that the Miami Heat play just twice in both Week 4 and Week 5. The Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies join the Heat as teams with just two games in Week 4. Every other team has three or four games in the week ahead.
Players to watch
Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards (IND, @ATL, CHA): Beal caught the attention of fantasy owners with a three-game run in which he averaged 18.3 points and 2.0 3-pointers per game. But in his past two games, Beal averaged only 8.0 points while shooting a cumulative 16.0 percent (4-of-25). Such is the life of most NBA rookies -- and Beal is a 19-year-old rookie at that. The point is it's tough to gauge such an inexperienced player by the schedule. Despite their recent success, the Bobcats are still a strong fantasy matchup. In fact, Bobcats opponents rank second in 3-pointers made, while Atlanta Hawks opponents rank 10th. So the schedule says go, and with his ability, the light should come on sooner than later. But night to night, don't assume anything with Beal.
Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors (@DAL, BKN, @DEN, MIN): Barnes is coming off his best game: 19 points and 13 rebounds against the Hawks on Nov. 14. Is this the start of a breakout or is this a Beal-esque tease from the Warriors rookie? One thing to note with this set of opponents is that the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves have been beasts on the boards. Nets, Nuggets and Wolves opponents are in the bottom six in rebound differential, with Nets and Wolves opponents in the bottom five in total rebounds.
Byron Mullens, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats (MIL, TOR, ATL, @WSH): Mullens intrigued many fantasy owners, including yours truly, with his 3-point shooting in the preseason, but Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap appears to be more interested in having Mullens do traditional big-man stuff like defending the paint. That could actually work out well for fantasy owners. Since sinking six 3s against the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 7, Mullens is only 3-of-15 from downtown. However, on the early season, the 7-footer is averaging 9.0 rebounds (including 11.7 boards over his past three games) and 1.0 blocks (including 3.0 rejections in his past two outings). We don't need Mullens to be another Ryan Anderson, and his wretched 39.0 shooting suggests he's not capable of that anyway. But perhaps a double-double with 1.0 3s, steals and blocks to go along with (fingers crossed) 45 percent shooting is a possibility. Mullens is available in about 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and I'd pounce anywhere I could get him. This seems like a good week for Mullens to avoid the perimeter. Wizards opponents are (believe it or not) dead last in 3s, while Milwaukee Bucks opponents are 25th. Meanwhile, Toronto Raptors, Hawks and Wizards opponents are all in the top third in rebound differential.
Jason Kidd, PG/SG, New York Knicks (@NO, @DAL, @HOU, DET): I'll be closely following the Knicks over the next few months. Sure, they've gotten off to a great start, but they've also played a league-low six games. The Weekly Schedule Grid tells me that the Knicks have entered a stretch in which they'll play four times in five of six weeks. How will such a veteran team respond? How will 40-year-old Kidd respond? Time will tell, but for now, Kidd really seems to have taken to his backup role. Unbelievably, Kidd is shooting 58.6 percent from the field (and 55.0 percent from downtown) through his first six games. That can't last, can it? Even so, Kidd might make sense as an end-of-the-lineup option in leagues of at least 12 teams. Houston Rockets opponents are tops in steals, while Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons opponents are fifth and sixth, respectively.
Jameer Nelson, PG, Orlando Magic (@ATL, DET, CLE, BOS): Nelson is expected to return to the lineup this weekend after missing six games with hamstring and groin injuries. His availability is up to 60 percent in ESPN.com leagues. Jammy's minutes could be limited early on, but his most favorable matchups could come at week's end. Cleveland Cavaliers opponents are tops in assists, while Boston Celtics opponents are sixth.
Jason Richardson, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers (TOR, @CLE, OKC, @PHX): J-Rich is also active again after spending some time on the sidelines. Surprisingly to me, Richardson is rostered in just 10 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Provided he can stay healthy, the 31-year-old will start for the Sixers and produce a decent number of 3s. Raptors and Suns opponents are currently sixth and seventh, respectively, in that regard.
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.