So you're wondering about the magic that goes into creating the NBA Fantasy Forecaster? OK, you're probably not, but bear with me for a moment while I explain.
Each Friday, I compile a short list of players I want to discuss in the week's feature. I always start by checking on who you're adding in ESPN.com leagues. In addition, I consult with the Player Rater (using the "Last 15" option) to see if any surprising names come up as recent stat leaders.
And then it hit me. This really is my favorite time of the fantasy hoops season. We're to the point where anything can happen, and any player -- even one who's been an afterthought for years -- can help you to a fantasy championship.
Of course, it's tough when you get to the stretch run of an NBA season and you have to make do without the likes of Kyrie Irving or Tony Parker. But those who succeed in fantasy basketball are those who adapt. And as much as this fantasy season has been about the brilliance of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the resurgence of Tim Duncan and the emergence of Damian Lillard, chances are that some fantasy owners will be able to look back on this season and rightly conclude that picking up the likes of McRoberts put them over the top.
Not that I'm overrating McRoberts. He's had a nice five-game run (12.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals), but this is a player who's averaged 4.7 points per game for his career. However, as a fantasy free agent, he's a chance worth taking, and that's what I love about fantasy hoops. I never thought I'd write about Josh McRoberts, and I'm sure you never thought you'd read about him here. But that's the game. A six-month season can come down to being the first in your league to spot -- and seriously consider -- that out-of-nowhere opportunity.
Week 22 at a Glance
I'm happy to report that every NBA team plays at least three times in the week ahead. Fourteen teams play four games, while 16 teams play three games. The Week 23 schedule is similar, so we're clear of those two-game weeks for another season.
"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
Chase Budinger, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (@DET, LAL, OKC, MEM): In his first game since Nov. 10, Budinger contributed nine points and four rebounds in 18 minutes against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday. The Wolves, who've had to thrust small, slow point guards into the off-guard position all season, have surely missed Budinger, and I believe fantasy owners have missed out as well. Were it not for his devastating knee injury, I could imagine Budinger falling somewhere between Martell Webster and Kyle Korver in terms of fantasy impact. So is there any reason to spring for Budinger now? Perhaps. While I'm leery of any player who's been sidelined for this long (ala Danny Granger), the Wolves have a solid closing schedule and a crying need for warm bodies. In large leagues of at least 14 teams, Budinger could help, but you might want to ride out this schedule before activating him. Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder opponents rank just 28th and 29th, respectively, in field goal percentage, and Grizzlies opponents rank 27th in 3-pointers.
Gerald Green, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (ATL, @HOU, @DAL, @PHX): Early this season, I was big on Green because he seemed set for an expanded role in Granger's absence. However, my hopes were quickly extinguished (not unlike this candle's flame). But now that the Pacers are talking about getting Granger ready for the playoffs, Green is again getting an opportunity. There certainly isn't a lot to go on here. Green is coming off two outings of 20 and 15 points, with seven total 3s. That's nice, but he only played 23 and 20 minutes in those contests, which strongly suggests that this offensive outburst is unsustainable. Still, Lance Stephenson continues to struggle as the starter, so perhaps Green will get more time. If so, he could produce with this schedule. Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks opponents both rank in the top five in 3s, while Phoenix Suns opponents rank sixth in shooting. By the way, should David West's back problems linger, this schedule would also play nicely for Tyler Hansbrough.
Moe Harkless, SF, Orlando Magic (MIA, @CHA, WSH, @ATL): Another thing we tend to see late in NBA seasons is rookies who are starting to figure it out. I'm not sure if Harkless has reached this point, but since his recent steals splurge -- averaging 2.9 over his past nine games -- has increased his popularity in ESPN.com leagues, let's talk about him. Actually, it's pretty simple: Add Harkless if you need steals, but stay away from him if you're vulnerable in free throw percentage (the 19-year-old is shooting just 56.1 percent from the line this season). While Hawks opponents rank third in steals, Charlotte Bobcats opponents rank just 29th.
Shaun Livingston, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (BOS, PHI, @NO): Livingston has started the past five games in place of Irving, averaging 12.6 points, 5.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Though the Cavs play only three games this week, New Orleans Hornets opponents rank seventh in assists while Philadelphia 76ers opponents rank 11th. Incidentally, Irving has not been ruled out for the season. He was putting up shots in practice on Thursday and could return for the final week or two. Irving is now available in close to 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues. I understand if you can't afford to wait, but if he's a free agent in my league, I'm definitely intrigued.
Josh McRoberts, PF, Charlotte Bobcats (ORL, @NY, @PHI): I gave you the impressive numbers on McRoberts. It's also worth noting that, while McRoberts was recording a double-double in 32 minutes against the Toronto Raptors on March 20, Byron Mullens came off the bench with 25 points and three treys in 28 minutes. Perhaps coach Mike Dunlap -- who's been on Mullens about his rebounding all season -- has finally decided to let Mullens launch shots while McRoberts cleans the glass. And since the Bobcats aren't exactly brimming with two-way talent, that seems like a sound solution. The point is, McRoberts is worth adding, and perhaps Mullens --who's available in 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- is as well.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors (ATL, @DET, @WSH): Valanciunas is seeing increased minutes for the Raptors, and he's rewarding the team's growing confidence. The rookie has played at least 30 minutes in four of his past five games, and over that span he's averaging 13.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. But with only three games this week, this might not be the best time to activate him -- especially with Hawks and Wizards opponents ranking in the bottom third in blocks.
Damien Wilkins, SG, Philadelphia 76ers (@UTA, MIL, @CLE, CHA): Last week, I mistakenly assumed that Wilkins was a mere placeholder in the Sixers' lineup. Apparently not. Coming off a 24-point performance against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, Wilkins is averaging 11.5 points, 0.8 3s, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in March. I'll let Seattle Sonics diehard Josh Whitling fill you in further. While I still consider Wilkins a last-resort option in deep leagues, this schedule should be a plus. Cavs and Bobcats opponents rank first and second, respectively, in shooting.
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.