While analyzing the schedule can help set your best fantasy lineups, it will always be an imperfect process. That's because myriad other factors -- such as a nagging injury, a couple of quick fouls, who your player is guarding and who's guarding him -- can turn any NBA player's fortunes from night to night.
The fantasy category that offers the most reliably predictive value is 3-pointers made (3PM). By that I mean that if you start one of your 3-point shooters against an NBA team that gives up a lot of 3-pointers, you'll generally get a good result. For instance, on Jan. 7 the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Philadelphia 76ers, who, as a team, allow the most 3s (along with lots of everything else). With key reserve Jarrett Jack out of action and the just-acquired Luol Deng not yet in uniform, the Cavs gave C.J. Miles a start at shooting guard. Miles promptly dropped 34 points and 10 (yes, 10!) 3-pointers on the hapless Sixers.
If only setting lineups was always that easy, or that obvious. It isn't. As a counterpoint, consider two Phoenix Suns players who are currently hot adds in ESPN.com leagues, Gerald Green and Channing Frye. In his past 10 games, Green has averaged an astonishing 3.5 triples. To launch this torrid stretch, he knocked down six treys against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 20. Three nights later, he drilled six more 3s against the Los Angeles Lakers. So how do those teams rate at containing the 3? It turns out they're not bad -- on a per-game basis the Nuggets allow the ninth-fewest 3s, and the Lakers allow the 12th-fewest.
As for Frye, he's drilled 20 3-pointers over his past five games. His surge started on Dec. 30, when he went 4-for-7 from downtown against the Los Angeles Clippers, even though the Clippers are another fairly stingy team when it comes to allowing 3s (they yield the eighth-fewest). The last time Frye failed to make a trey was on Dec. 28. The opponent? The 76ers.
In short, the opponent matters, and you can use this information to your advantage. However, just remember that some nights the shots fall and some nights they don't, and fantasy owners can't escape this unscientific reality.
Week 12 at a Glance
While a majority of NBA teams -- 17 -- are looking at four games in the week ahead, inconveniently, the Clippers aren't one of those 17. Owners who just acquired Darren Collison will have to settle for a three-game set that features back-to-back games at the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. Pacers opponents, unsurprisingly, rank dead last in assists, but Knicks opponents, quite surprisingly, rank only 28th in helpers. Obviously you'll have Collison active -- he's averaging 17.5 points, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals in his first four starts in place of Chris Paul -- but temper your expectations.
This schedule also doesn't offer a lot for J.J. Redick, who is expected to return to action this weekend after missing six weeks with a fracture in the small bone of his shooting (right) hand. The actionable news here though is that Redick remains available in nearly half of ESPN.com leagues. He's a must-add, though perhaps not a must-start, for the week ahead.
"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").
Players to Watch
Raymond Felton, PG, and Iman Shumpert, PG/SG/SF, New York Knicks (PHX, @CHA, @IND, LAC): Felton returned from a groin injury to post a season-high 14 assists against the Miami Heat on Jan. 9. He's disappointed this season -- Thursday's game marked just the second time this season Felton topped eight assists -- but he could see substantial minutes for the time being since Beno Udrih (knee) and Pablo Prigioni (toe) are both sidelined. Despite the quantity offered with this schedule, note that Suns, Charlotte Bobcats and Pacers opponents all rank in the bottom third in assists.
As for Shumpert, he opened 2014 with monster outings against the San Antonio Spurs (27 points, six 3-pointers) and Houston Rockets (26 points, six more triples) from Jan. 2-3. Though he's only totaled 26 points in the three games since, he did knock down four more treys against the Heat on Thursday. With the Knicks weary of J.R. Smith's act, Shumpert's minutes at the wing seem secure. However, don't count on him maintaining the 3-point barrage with this schedule. Pacers, Suns and Clippers opponents all rank in the bottom eight in 3s.
It should be noted that both Felton and Shumpert are available in about 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Randy Foye, PG/SG, Denver Nuggets (@UTA, @GS, CLE, @PHX): Foye is shooting 56.5 percent (with 17 3s) over his past four games. He started seeing more minutes as Andre Miller's situation boiled over, so perhaps he will be a mainstay in the Nuggets' rotation going forward. Of course sustainability is a factor here; despite his recent success, Foye is still shooting just 39.7 percent from the field this season. With Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors and Suns opponents all in the bottom seven in 3s, perhaps his regression to the mean starts now. Nonetheless, with the four games, Foye is a speculative plug-in for leagues of at least 12 teams.
Taj Gibson, PF, Chicago Bulls (WSH, @ORL, @WSH, PHI): In his past 10 games, Gibson is averaging 14.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. With Carlos Boozer (knee) expected to return this weekend, Gibson will likely return to a reserve role, but with Sixers and Orlando Magic opponents ranking first and fifth in blocks, respectively, he could still be viable in deep leagues.
Jodie Meeks, SG, Los Angeles Lakers (CLE, @PHX, @BOS, @TOR): Meeks is another 3-point specialist on a tear. He has scored in double figures in 11 of his past 12 games while registering multiple 3s eight times. On top of that, Meeks is contributing on the defensive end (he's averaging 2.2 steals in that span) and at the line (27-of-29 in his past four). This is another set of games that offers more in quantity than quality. Boston Celtics, Suns and Toronto Raptors opponents all rank in the bottom third in 3s.
Brian Roberts, PG, New Orleans Pelicans (SA, HOU, GS): With Friday's news that Jrue Holiday is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right tibia, Roberts will apparently be the Pelicans' starting point guard for the foreseeable future. Word is that coach Monty Williams will keep Tyreke Evans in a reserve role -- Evans has played just 20 and 18 minutes in his past two games. Based on his very limited NBA playing time, Roberts seems capable of producing around 5.0 assists and better than 1.0 3s per game (the second-year pro is a career 38.1 percent shooter from downtown) with excellent foul shooting, though not much in terms of steals. For what it's worth, Warriors opponents are only 27th in assists, while Spurs opponents are 22nd.