I was amused seeing the Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this week. It's not that I hate the Lakers, nor do I get any thrill from seeing one of Matthew Berry's favorite teams lose. What amused me was how the Rockets rallied for the win behind some barely used reserves like Toney Douglas and Greg Smith, while starters Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons were reduced to spectators.
The Rockets have been riding their starters pretty hard, and despite the timely efforts of Douglas and Smith, I imagine they'll continue to do so. But looking at their schedule over the next few weeks, I wonder how Houston's starters will respond.
Don't get me wrong; as a fantasy owner, I would never make too much of too many minutes. Kevin Durant played the most minutes in the NBA last season, and he's doing so again this season. And between then and now, he went to the NBA Finals and then to the Olympics. I think he's shown that he can handle that workload. Durant and his fellow NBA players are paid to play. And as world-class athletes, they're all up to that task.
Still, the Rockets' starters are pretty inexperienced at the roles and responsibilities they're taking on. Both James Harden and Parsons are averaging 38 minutes per game. As a rookie in 2011-12, Parsons logged 29 minutes a night. And last season, as the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden averaged just 31 minutes, and that was easily a career best for him. The other starters -- Lin, Asik and Patrick Patterson -- are all currently in the 30- to 33-minute range. But none of these players has ever started throughout a full NBA season.
During the Rockets' 9-8 start, they've played four sets of back-to-back games. On the second night of those pairs, they're 1-3, and failed to reach 100 points in all of those contests. This from a team that's averaging 103.7 points per game, which ranks second in the league. Harden, who's averaging 23.6 points per game on the season, averaged just 16.8 points per game on 30.0 percent shooting during those four games.
And all that tells us ... nothing, right? Small sample size and all. That's why I'm interested to see how the next few weeks will play out. Because from this weekend through the final weekend of January, the Rockets play not one, not four, but 10 back-to-back sets. Even more remarkably, from Christmas through Jan. 19 -- roughly 3 1/2 weeks -- the Rockets play four games in five nights three times.
Most likely this poses more good than bad for fantasy owners. In addition to getting big numbers from your Rockets stalwarts, Houston has become one of those teams you want to see your players compete against. That's because at this pace, they're about as bad defensively as they are good offensively in terms of fantasy scoring. Rockets opponents rank second in points, fifth in 3-pointers, sixth in field-goal percentage, fourth in blocks and sixth in steals.
One thing that this tells me, though: Ready or not, the Rockets will have to go to their bench more. And that brings me to Carlos Delfino. (At least it will in a bit.)
Week 7 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").
Two teams, the Phoenix Suns and the Thunder, play just twice in Week 7. Everyone else has three or four games. The Dallas Mavericks are one of those teams with four games; since the final three of those games come on the road, I have a decent excuse to discuss O.J. Mayo and his remarkable splits.
I must admit, Mayo is a player I seriously underestimated going into this season. I expected him to put up numbers like he did in his first two seasons as a starter for the Memphis Grizzlies, and that prospect didn't impress me all that much. However, I didn't see Mayo being so integral to the Mavs' offense as a scorer and playmaker. (Granted, Dirk Nowitzki's absence has made him all the more essential.)
But about those splits: In nine home games, Mayo is averaging 24.6 points and 3.4 3s while shooting 51.6 percent. In 10 road games, he's averaging only 15.6 points while shooting 41.7 percent. In four seasons in Memphis, Mayo was never this at home. His home-away numbers each season with the Grizzlies are all but indistinguishable.
So this is totally out of nowhere and, ultimately, not all that meaningful. I'm certainly not suggesting you bench Mayo for the away portion of the Mavs' schedule. He's still swishing 2.1 treys on the road, and in five games (four away) since Darren Collison's demotion, Mayo has averaged 5.4 assists per night. But it's just crazy what a big difference Big D has been for Mayo.
Players to Watch
Jordan Crawford, SG, Washington Wizards (@NO, @HOU, LAL, @MIA): While I generally wouldn't get excited about a non-starter shooting 41.4 percent this season -- and 39.7 percent for his career -- the Wizards don't have any idea when John Wall will get back or when Bradley Beal will "get it." So perhaps Crawford, who's averaging 19.3 points and 47.6 percent (30-of-63) shooting over his past four games, is a worthy add. He is at least getting to the line -- his 80.9 percent foul shooting comes on 3.1 attempts per game -- and handing out a few assists (3.6 per game). And though Crawford is shooting just 30.4 percent from downtown this season, he should improve on that in the week ahead, since New Orleans Hornets and Miami Heat opponents rank first and second, respectively, in triples.
Carlos Delfino, SG/SF, Houston Rockets (SA, WSH, BOS, @TOR): Even at his best, Delfino isn't a serious consideration for standard leagues. But in leagues of at least 12 teams, I think he could really help over this brutal stretch of schedule for the Rockets. This is assuming, of course, that the 30-year-old can stay healthy. Due to his most recent injury -- a groin problem that cost him seven games -- Delfino is available in more than 95 percent of ESPN.com leagues. The Wizards, who've faced some excellent offenses of late, have allowed 43 3s in four games, but Wizards opponents rank only 14th overall in buckets from downtown. Other small signs that this schedule works for Delfino? Toronto Raptors opponents rank fourth in shooting, and San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics opponents are eighth and 10th, respectively, in steals.
Gerald Henderson, SG/SF, Charlotte Bobcats (GS, LAC, @ATL, ORL): After missing a month with a foot injury, Henderson returned on Dec. 3, finishing with five points in 15 minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers. Two nights later, Henderson went for 18 points in 25 minutes against the New York Knicks. It's safe to assume Henderson isn't yet 100 percent, but it also figures that he'll be back in the Bobcats' starting lineup before too long. So at 90-plus percent availability in ESPN.com leagues, Henderson could be your best free-agent choice at the moment. I'd suggest adding, but perhaps holding off on activating Henderson, since Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks opponents all rank in the bottom nine in field goal percentage.
Kyle Korver, SG/SF, Atlanta Hawks (@MIA, @ORL, CHA, GS): It's tough recommending a player who might sit out the weekend due to a sore back. But if Korver can get back on the court for Week 7, he could be extremely productive. Again, Heat opponents rank second in triples, while Bobcats opponents rank third and Warriors opponents rank ninth. That's very enticing, given Korver's mark of 2.6 treys per game this season. Be sure to check on his injury status this weekend. Korver is available in 85 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Alexey Shved, PG/SG, Minnesota Timberwolves (DEN, @NO, DAL): The Timberwolves fan in me can't wait to see Shved starting alongside Ricky Rubio. Meanwhile, the fantasy hoops analyst in me ... can't wait to see Shved starting alongside Rubio. In another month or so, I do believe you'll see the 24-year-old in Rick Adelman's starting five. Shved has impressed the veteran coach while settling in offensively. Over his past five games, he's shooting 45.8 percent while averaging 13.8 points and 3.0 3s. And open looks will become more frequent for him once Rubio returns to run the offense. As bright as his near-term future seems, his immediate future is decent as well. Hornets opponents rank first in 3s and Denver Nuggets opponents rank fourth.
Opponent Performance, Past 10 games
All statistics are for teams' past 10 games played, and are defensive numbers. PPGA: Points per game allowed. FG%A: Field goal percentage allowed. 3PT%A: Three-point percentage allowed. RPG diff.: Rebounds per game differential. SPGA: Steals per game allowed. BPGA: Blocks per game allowed.