Something I've noticed: One reason the Houston Rockets miss shots is that quite a few of them never even get near the iron. No team gets more shots blocked than the Rockets, and that figure is, yes, skyrocketing. In their past five games, Rockets opponents are averaging 8.2 blocks. Go back over 10 games, and the rejection rate is a still gaudy 7.1 per night. During that span, the Rockets saw Josh Smith block four shots, LaMarcus Aldridge (he of the 0.5 average) get four more and Tyrus Thomas swat six (in 24 minutes!).
For the 2009-10 season, Rockets opponents are averaging a stunning 6.8 blocks per game. To put that into context, in the previous four NBA seasons, no team has averaged more than 6.0 shots blocked.
So what does this mean to you right now? Well, if you own the resurgent Andrei Kirilenko, or Andrew Bogut, or even Emeka Okafor, you'll be pleased to know that your guys face the Rockets in Week 17. But what about someone who isn't already on a fantasy roster? That brings me to Roy Hibbert.
Of course Hibbert's availability -- currently around 75 percent in ESPN.com leagues -- is easily explained by his inconsistency. It seems whenever Hibbert is poised for a breakthrough, he struggles -- especially on defense -- and gives you a few empty stat lines. So nothing's certain here, but Hibbert seems like a risk worth taking for the week ahead. Before visiting the Rockets, the Indiana Pacers host the San Antonio Spurs. Spurs opponents are seventh in blocked shots, and for what it's worth, Hibbert had maybe his best game of the season against Tim Duncan back in December. The Pacers' three-game set is filled out with an away game with the New Orleans Hornets. While Hornets opponents are only 20th in rejections, at least the offensively limited Okafor shouldn't give Hibbert too many problems.
Week 17 at a glance
This should be a great week for the Chicago Bulls, but a home-and-home with the New York Knicks, topped off by games with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers, is actually wasted on a team that's dead last in 3-point makes. In the Bulls' defense, though, we don't know who will be in the lineup next week -- Derrick Rose's hip seems OK, but Joakim Noah's foot not so much -- or who will even be on this roster by the end of the month. Still, it might be worth rolling the dice on the two Bulls who seem inevitably headed out of town: the aforementioned Thomas and Kirk Hinrich. While Hinrich is a yucky 37.1 percent from the field in February, he did average 1.9 3-pointers in January. Wolves opponents are far and away the leaders in 3s made, while Sixers opponents are third in this regard. As for the Knicks -- a team that really was defending the perimeter for a while -- they've yielded a whopping 92 triples in their past 10 games. So yeah, Hinrich, who's available in about 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues, is worth a shot. As for Thomas, I like him more for his circumstances than this schedule. With Taj Gibson's own issues with plantar fasciitis, the Bulls really have no choice but to give Thomas minutes.
The Bulls are one of 12 NBA teams with four games in Week 17. The Los Angeles Lakers are the only team with two games.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) 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 performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
The Forecast: It's their week
Mike Miller, SG/SF, Washington Wizards (MIN, DEN, @TOR): The Wizards are another team that could be transformed by the trade deadline. If Antawn Jamison and/or Caron Butler are dealt, the oft-injured, enigmatic Miller could be a top-two offensive option on this team. Not that he isn't doing ample damage as is. In seven games since returning to the starting lineup, Miller is averaging 14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.3 treys. All you need to know here is that Wolves and Toronto Raptors opponents are 1-2 in 3-point makes. Miller, who's available in 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues, could be the biggest find in your free agent pool.
Anthony Morrow, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors (@LAL, SAC, UTA, ATL): Morrow seized on Corey Maggette's absence in two monster performances against the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers. While Maggette is expected to return right after the break, I still see Morrow posting nice numbers. Why, with Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks opponents all in the bottom third in treys? It's because Morrow has three games at home, where he's averaging 2.3 3s while shooting 54.4 percent. I never want to make too much of home/away splits, but familiar environs seem to matter with a young shooter like Morrow, who's available in more than 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Jermaine O'Neal, C, Miami Heat (@PHI, @NJ, @MEM, @DAL): Dwyane Wade may need more help from his teammates, but he shouldn't have any beef with J.O. In his past five games, O'Neal is averaging 15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while shooting 54.1 percent. The positive with this schedule is mostly quantity, but Memphis Grizzlies opponents are fourth in blocks, while New Jersey Nets and Grizzlies opponents are second and third, respectively, in shooting percentage. O'Neal, incidentally, is actually available in nearly 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
The Forecast: They're weak
Tayshaun Prince, SF, Detroit Pistons (MIN, @ORL, MIL, SA): After spending most of the season injured, Prince went into the break on a high note, with back-to-back outings of 18 and 23 points against the Milwaukee Bucks and Kings. Despite his injuries, it surprises me that Prince is available in almost three-quarters of ESPN.com leagues. Prince has never been a great player for fantasy; on those strong Pistons teams, he excelled on the defensive end. But with the current Pistons struggling to score, I can see Prince putting up solid numbers from here. This schedule has its challenges, however. Orlando Magic opponents are 29th in shooting percentage, while Bucks and Spurs opponents are only 19th and 20th, respectively, in this regard. On the other hand, Timberwolves opponents are fourth from the field.
Peja Stojakovic, SF, New Orleans Hornets (UTA, IND, HOU): In the five games heading into the break, Peja averaged 21.0 points and 3.8 3-pointers. In particular, he stepped up in the four games that Marcus Thornton missed all or most of, shooting 51.6 percent (16-of-31) from downtown. Between Thornton getting back up to speed (he played briefly against the Boston Celtics on Feb. 10) and the 40.9-percent-shooting Stojakovic coming back down to earth, there are ample reasons to stay away here. There's also the fact that Rockets opponents are just 27th in 3s. On the plus side, Pacers opponents, though only 20th in 3-point makes, are eighth in 3-point shooting percentage.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.