One thing that makes fantasy hoops so enjoyable is the element of unpredictability. No matter how much time you put into researching your drafts and auctions, some players will catch you totally by surprise.
Friday being only the fourth day of the 2012-13 NBA season, it is of course far too early to draw conclusions about unproven players. But that doesn't mean we can't take the first handful of NBA games and make some initial observations. Most of the names in the Players to Watch section are guys on the fringes of fantasy relevance who did well in their season openers. We'll get to them in a moment.
Meanwhile, a team that's caught my eye is the New Orleans Hornets. In terms of fantasy value, the Hornets were already buzz-worthy due to the presence of No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis. He didn't disappoint in his NBA debut, posting 21 points (including 9-of-9 from the line), seven rebounds, a steal and a block against the San Antonio Spurs on Oct. 31.
But beyond Davis, Greivis Vasquez dished out 13 assists; Al-Farouq Aminu racked up 17 points, seven boards and three blocks; and Robin Lopez contributed nine rebounds, three assists and a rejection. Sure, it's only one game, but Vasquez merits consideration in standard 10-team leagues, while Aminu and Lopez are worth watching in leagues of at least 12 teams. Vasquez is available in 47.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues; Aminu and Lopez are available in more than 90 percent of leagues.
By the way, for anyone aspiring to write about fantasy sports (each season I receive queries from multiple readers wondering how I lucked into this gig), don't do what I just did -- writing that a player is worth watching is an empty statement. I avoid it whenever possible. However, in this case, "considering" and "watching" seems like a reasonable strategy, because the Hornets play just twice in Week 2. That's how the schedule breaks sometimes.
Week 2 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").
The Hornets are joined in relative idleness by the New York Knicks, who also have only two games. However, all other teams have at least three games, and 18 NBA teams play four times in Week 2. With the Los Angeles Lakers struggling to implement the Princeton offense, I really like the Golden State Warriors' schedule, but Andrew Bogut owners should note that coach Mark Jackson won't use him in back-to-back games in the early season. The final two games of the Warriors' four-game set (@SAC, CLE, @LAL, DEN) come on consecutive nights.
Players to watch
Jamal Crawford, PG/SG, Los Angeles Clippers (CLE, SA, @POR, ATL): Crawford, as he has been known to do over the years, erupted in his Clippers debut. The veteran rang up 29 points, including three 3-pointers, in just 30 minutes of action against the Memphis Grizzlies on Oct. 31. It's tough to gauge Crawford by the schedule -- if he's feeling it, he's capable of torching any defense. Still, matchups against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers, young teams with shallow benches, seem promising enough. Plus, this set -- with games on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday -- plays well in leagues that allow daily lineup changes. Crawford can still be had in about 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues. He's worth using here.
Carlos Delfino, SG/SF, Houston Rockets (DEN, @MEM, DET): James Harden wasn't the only player enjoying his first game with the Rockets. Delfino -- no doubt getting some feeds from Harden -- knocked down five 3s and added seven boards against the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 31. It's a bit concerning that Delfino accomplished all this in just 24 minutes -- he'll need a bit more playing time to sustain fantasy relevance even in deep leagues. But even as a reserve, it's not tough to imagine Delfino being the third-leading scorer (behind Harden and Jeremy Lin) on this roster. Both he and Chandler Parsons (11 points, seven rebounds and six assists versus the Pistons) are available in more than 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues and are, ugh, worth watching. I'd be more inclined to use Delfino in Week 2, given the rematch with the Pistons and the fact that the Denver Nuggets surrendered by far the most treys in 2011-12.
Gerald Green, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (@SA, @ATL, @MIN, WAS): Danny Granger's knee problem will likely result in more responsibility on the offensive end for players like Paul George and David West. At least we saw that in the Pacers' opener versus the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 31. However, Green is the guy replacing Granger in the starting lineup and seeing the big minutes boost. Though he only had six points in Toronto, Green played 37 minutes. I do think he's a worthy add in leagues of at least 12 teams, though I'm not sure I like this four-game set; Spurs, Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves opponents were all below average in 3s made last season.
J.J. Hickson, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (@DAL, LAC, SA): Hickson and rookie Meyers Leonard saw about the same number of minutes in the opener versus the Lakers on Oct. 31, but Hickson did far more damage (13 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks). Again, relying on last season's stats, this is a tough set for him. Dallas Mavericks opponents were dead last in blocks, while Clippers opponents were only 25th.
Jason Richardson, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers (NY, @NO, @BOS, @TOR): J-Rich had only 10 points in the opener against the Nuggets on Oct. 31, but adding four steals, three blocks and a couple of 3s made it a sweet fantasy line. Dorell Wright (14 points, seven rebounds, two steals, two 3s) also had a nice first game; however, given that Richardson played the greater minutes (37 to Wright's 28), I'd look to him first in deeper leagues. While only Knicks opponents really excelled from distance last season (ninth in 3s), this seems like a decent schedule. The Raptors might actually be the toughest matchup here, as Toronto opponents were only 22nd in points and 23rd in 3s in 2011-12.
Luke Ridnour, PG/SG, Minnesota Timberwolves (@BKN, ORL, IND, @CHI): Ridnour is a popular early add for fantasy owners -- his availability in ESPN.com leagues is down to about 45 percent. As a starter last season, the veteran averaged 12.1 points, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 3s. However, considering that Chicago Bulls and Pacers opponents were both in the bottom six in dimes in 2011-12, and that the Brooklyn Nets should be much improved, there are probably better weeks than this to activate Ridnour.
Tristan Thompson, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers (@LAC, @GS, @PHO, @OKC): Thompson started his sophomore season impressively, posting 12 points, 10 rebounds and -- surprisingly -- five assists against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 30. One thing Thompson didn't do in that game was block a shot -- and he'll probably struggle for rejections in the week ahead, given that Suns and Clippers opponents were in the bottom six in blocks last season.