The injury situation this season in the NBA is just unbelievable. For me, it reached a pinnacle of frustration, despair and absurdity Wednesday, when Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay all went down. At least Cousins and Gay aren't expected to miss major time, but if you're looking for a snapshot of the sidelined star power, check out the ESPN.com NBA Player Rater. Of the top 100 alone, 17 players are designated as either "out" or "DTD" (day to day). And I'm not even counting Dirk Nowitzki, who was rested on Wednesday, or Kyle Lowry or Paul Pierce, who've been under the weather.
Anyway, this got me thinking: Who are fantasy's unluckiest owners this season? I've certainly dealt with my share of injuries -- most notably to Anthony Davis and Eric Bledsoe -- but I won't even attempt to suggest I have it worse than anyone else. I'm seriously wondering whose rosters have been blown to pieces by injuries, and I hope you'll share your sob stories in the comment section. Now, I have one important guideline: When you're talking about your injuries, I don't want to hear from people who drafted the likes of Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo or even Dwyane Wade. You folks kind of knew what you were getting yourselves into. But for the rest of you who pinned your hopes on the likes of Derrick Rose, Al Horford, Brook Lopez or Russell Westbrook, feel free to vent. If we get a decent response, I may even choose a winner. Of course that recognition will totally make up for your lost season.
Week 14 at a Glance
Earlier this week, Henry Abbott, ESPN.com senior writer and founder of the excellent True Hoop blog, made his case that the NBA regular season is too long. I'm no economist, but I've long thought that the NBA could snip a few games off the schedule and sacrifice only minimal revenue. You know, less is more? If we had, say, 70 games, isn't it possible that overall attendance would at least hold as more fans attended fewer games? And if a shorter schedule helps star players avoid major injuries, isn't that good for the bottom line?
Of course I write this as a follower of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Good seats have been available for all of our games for most of the past two decades. A loss of dates would impact the major-market teams that fill their arenas on a nightly basis, I suppose, but I'm sure the elite franchises could manage.
It's not that I'm actually naive enough to seriously think that the NBA or any pro sports league would ever go this route. But I mention this because as we pass the halfway point of the fantasy hoops schedule, most of the NBA is looking at a few off days. In Week 14, five teams -- the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers -- play just twice, and 14 other teams have only three games. That leaves just 11 teams with four-game weeks. So between the lack of games -- and of course the injuries -- fantasy owners face some challenges as they set their lineups for the week ahead.
One team with a particularly appealing schedule is the Atlanta Hawks. Naturally they face the Philadelphia 76ers (this season the Sixers are making schedules positively radiant), but in the week ahead the Hawks also draw the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Pistons and the Timberwolves. Thunder and Pistons opponents rank in the top eight in 3-pointers, while Wolves opponents shoot a league-high 47.1 percent from the field. Unfortunately, the Hawks don't offer much as far as fantasy free agents. DeMarre Carroll (hamstring) is targeting a Monday return, and with Pero Antic (ankle) out for at least two weeks, perhaps Elton Brand will see more minutes. But Carroll or Brand -- or Mike Scott or Louis Williams -- are realistic adds only in deep leagues of at least 14 teams.
"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
Marco Belinelli, SG, San Antonio Spurs (@HOU, CHI, SAC): Belinelli is another player who's strictly a deep-league consideration. However, with Leonard joining Danny Green on the sideline, Belinelli should see 30-plus minutes for the time being. While there's only three games here, if you get Belinelli you at least have him and his 51.4 percent success rate from downtown against the Sacramento Kings. Kings opponents are third in triples. As of Friday, Belinelli is available in 92.6 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Patrick Beverley, PG, Houston Rockets (SA, @DAL, CLE): Beverley has been a Forecaster regular. While I remain intrigued by his potential to put up nice stats in steals and 3s, his assist (2.5) and shooting (41.4 percent) numbers obviously haven't been helpful. Other than the fact that Cleveland Cavaliers opponents trail only Sixers opponents in 3s, there's little to go with this set of games. But we are talking about a starting point guard who's available in about 90 percent of leagues. I see Beverley as a solid add for leagues of at least 12 teams.
Kris Humphries, PF, Boston Celtics (@NY, PHI, ORL): Kelly Olynyk may be part of the future in Boston, but for now the 6-foot-9 Humphries is the starting center. While the Celtics play only three games this week, you have to like Hump's chances against a depleted New York Knicks frontcourt and an Orlando Magic team that will likely be without Nikola Vucevic. Then there's the fact that Sixers opponents are tops in rejections. Humphries is well worth rostering in any league of at least 12 teams for the week ahead.
Ramon Sessions, PG, Charlotte Bobcats (@DEN, @LAL, @PHX): Surprisingly, interest in Sessions -- who of course is filling in for the injured Kemba Walker -- has been fairly mild. The veteran remains available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues. While matchups with Ty Lawson and Goran Dragic should prove challenging, the one-time Laker could thrive in L.A. as Lakers opponents are second in assists.
Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Detroit Pistons (ORL, @ATL, PHI): In his past four games, Stuckey is averaging 23.3 points while shooting better than 50 percent in each game. While he'll need to maintain his percentages to continue to provide fantasy value, it could happen against this competition. Magic opponents are sixth in field-goal percentage over the past 10 games. Sixers opponents are only 12th in shooting for the season, but they're first in assists and second in steals. Consider this your official weekly reminder to start your players when they're facing Philly.
Derrick Williams, SF/PF, Sacramento Kings (@UTA, MEM, @DAL, @SA): Williams may not be a starter for long, but with Gay expected to be in a walking boot into early next week, I figure Derrick should remain fantasy-relevant through Week 14. This schedule has some positives beyond the four games. Jazz opponents are third in shooting, while Dallas Mavericks opponents are third in rebound differential. For the sparse schedule in the week ahead, Williams -- who's still available in more than 75 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- is worth starting in most formats.