Working the Wire: Exploiting unbalanced schedules

With about half of the NBA season remaining, it's time for fantasy owners to start thinking about how to exploit the unbalanced nature of NBA schedules. Many fantasy owners take a shortsighted approach to examining NBA schedules. We look at the upcoming week, make our pickups, set our lineups and forget about it until the next week. Only the savviest of owners will project the games remaining for the rest of the season and use the power of games played to their advantage. With that in mind, I've put together a table of the games remaining for each team, starting Monday.

Games Remaining By Week

PR1 = Playoff Round 1; PR2 = Playoff Round 2; TPG = Total Playoff Games

For those in roto leagues, the above table can come in handy in trade evaluations. It takes a little extra work to do the math, but the payoff can be huge if you play your cards right. For instance, no one in their right mind would consider trading Chris Bosh for David West. But when you factor in the power of games remaining, West makes up some serious ground on Bosh in terms of overall value. Of course, I'd still rather own Bosh for his boards and assists, but it's a lot closer than initially suspected. Take a look:

Season Averages

Chris Bosh: 23.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.9 blocks.
David West: 20.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 blocks.

Projected totals for the remainder of the season

Bosh (35 games): 842 points, 364 rebounds, 94 assists, 25 steals and 32 blocks
West (42 games): 840 points, 298 rebounds, 80 assists, 29 steals and 42 blocks
Based on schedules starting Monday

As you can see, games played can be a big factor in determining player values. West doesn't hold a candle to Bosh in most situations, but he looks quite similar when you factor in the seven extra games. In a roto league, I still wouldn't deal Bosh for West straight up, but I'd certainly do it if I also received a decent throw-in to complete the deal.

Head-to-head strategy

If you are confident that you'll make the playoffs, now is the time to put yourself in a better position to win the playoffs. The best way to do that is to seek out players who have heavy schedules during playoff competition (starting in Week 21 in standard ESPN.com leagues). Your leaguemates won't know what hit them. Think about it: Let's say you own Chris Paul and he plays three games in Week 22. You'll earn the following totals for your team (assuming his performance mirrors his averages): 64 points, 17 rebounds, 33 assists, 8 steals and two 3-pointers. But when Paul plays four games in Week 23, he'll provide around 85 points, 22 rebounds, 44 assists, 11 steals and three 3-pointers. That's a huge difference, especially when considering that most H2H playoff battles are decided by a small margin. It's a simple premise, but is often overlooked by fantasy owners who are looking to bolster their lineups for the playoff run.

The 76ers have the best overall playoff schedule, which bodes well for Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller and the rest of the crew. It still remains to be seen how they will adjust once Elton Brand returns, but those who own AI2 and Miller can take some solace in the fact that the Sixers have 18 total games in the final four weeks of the season. After the Sixers, four teams play a total of 17 games during the H2H playoffs: New Orleans, Detroit, Memphis and San Antonio.

On the flip side, owners in head-to-head leagues should look to move players on Milwaukee (13 games), Indiana (14 games) and Houston (14 games). Non-elite players like Richard Jefferson, Luke Ridnour, Troy Murphy and Rafer Alston lose a lot of value, and you should look to move them now if you're confident you'll make the playoffs. Now, this is not to say that you should go out and immediately trade someone like Danny Granger for a lesser player with more games. Granger is a special player, and 14 games with Granger is going to net you better stats than 17-18 games from a lesser talent. Do the math, and if you can make a deal for someone with a better schedule that is close to his value, plus a decent throw-in, you should make the deal.

Pickups: Shallow formats

Players named in previous weeks who remain quality waiver-wire options: Anderson Varejao, Michael Beasley, Linas Kleiza, Jason Thompson, Mardy Collins, Sebastian Telfair, Kirk Hinrich, Von Wafer, Nick Collison and Travis Outlaw.

Andray Blatche, PF/C, Wizards (11.1 percent owned): I've talked enough about Blatche this season that most of you already know my thoughts on the talented 22-year-old. His upside is scintillating, and he's finally starting to add some consistency to his game with 14.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks in his past five games. It looks like Blatche is going to stick in the starting lineup for the Wizards, so go ahead and take a flier on him as a high-risk/high-reward addition.

Charlie Villanueva, SF/PF, Bucks (45.8 percent owned): I still don't trust Charlie (and neither should you), but he's had enough big games lately that he almost has to be considered a quality pickup at this point. Averaging 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers this month, Villanueva has made the most of his opportunity as a starter. The Bucks have a horrible second-half schedule, and it still remains to be seen if he can continue this type of production with a healthy Andrew Bogut around, but Charlie is playing at such a high level right now that he simply cannot be ignored.

Beno Udrih, PG, Kings (40.6 percent owned): Udrih had a rough start with new head coach Kenny Natt but has turned things around of late with 13.8 points, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals during his past five games. He's still not consistent, but he has earned Natt's trust and is playing well enough to be a solid bench player in most fantasy leagues.

Lamar Odom, SF/PF, Lakers (86.3 percent owned): Dropped by many after a rough first half, Odom is starting to turn his season around and is currently playing his best basketball of the season. He's still not all the way back to where we'd like him, but he is averaging 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.4 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers this month. Luke Walton's return might cut into some of Odom's recent production, but Odom is playing inspired ball off the bench, particularly on the defensive end.

Monta Ellis, PG/SG, Warriors (81.1 percent owned): This is just a friendly reminder that Ellis is expected to suit up for the first time this season Friday. We all know Ellis is a stud when healthy, so give him a few weeks to get his game legs back, and enjoy the production.

Pickups: Deep formats

Players named in previous weeks who remain quality waiver-wire options: Nenad Krstic, Trevor Ariza, Courtney Lee, Will Solomon, Rodney Carney, Raja Bell and Chris Andersen.

DeAndre Jordan, C, Clippers (1.6 percent owned): It's been the rookie Jordan, not Brian Skinner, who has stepped up his play in the absence of Marcus Camby in Los Angeles. Jordan has put up mouth-watering numbers this week, averaging 15.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks in two starts. Keep in mind, however, that Jordan's team defense could use some work. On Monday, both Al Jefferson and Craig Smith dropped 20 on the Clippers, while Andrew Bynum went off for 42 points in the paint against Jordan on Wednesday. Still, Jordan has a ton of raw talent, and he's earned the opportunity to play big-time minutes while Camby and Chris Kaman recover. He's a short-term pickup for now, but if the Clippers' big men can't remain healthy (a very good possibility given their history), Jordan could turn into a solid long-term investment.

Joakim Noah, C, Bulls (56.4 percent owned): With Drew Gooden nursing a groin injury, fantasy owners should give both Noah and Tyrus Thomas a look in Chicago. Noah has posted two huge rebounding games this week with 18 boards in New York on Monday and 11 boards against Atlanta on Tuesday. He's also swatted 1.4 shots per game in his past five. With numbers like those, Noah looks like a solid short-term addition until Gooden heals.

Danilo Gallinari, SF, Knicks (1.0 percent owned): New York was buzzing Thursday morning, and it wasn't just about Wednesday's victory over the Suns. Most New Yorkers were actually talking about their rookie "sensation" Danilo Gallinari. After seeing him drain five 3-pointers in three games since returning from a back injury, I can see where the excitement came from. Injury issues aside, Gallinari looks like he'll grow into a very nice player once he matures and puts on some weight. He's showing some nice versatility, too, with three blocks and two steals since his return. Look for the "Rooster" to gradually increase his minutes as the season progresses, and don't be afraid to take a flier on him in deeper formats.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com.