In our mock games, small sample sizes are often misleading. But skewed stats can still be pretty fun.
For instance, as the ESPN.com fantasy hoops analyst tasked with examining NBA teams by their defensive numbers, I'm floored by the Indiana Pacers' torrid start. In winning their first eight games, they've allowed by far the fewest points: just 84.5 per game. Not only are the Pacers the lone NBA team holding its opposition under 85 points, but they're also the only team holding opponents under 90 points. In addition, the Pacers limit opponents to a league-low 39.2 percent shooting while posting the second-highest rebound differential (plus-5.2) and amassing an astounding 8.8 blocked shots per game.
Sure, as of Friday, none of the Pacers' victims had a winning record -- and it's possible they won't see a plus-.500 club until their 14th game, at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 25. However, given what we know about these players, it's a safe assumption that the Pacers will be an elite defensive team this season, and a fantasy matchup worth avoiding whenever possible.
The Pacers are at or near the top in most defensive categories. This includes 3-pointers against, currently allowing the fourth-fewest made 3s and the second-fewest 3-point tries. Surprisingly though, the team yielding the fewest treys so far is the Boston Celtics, with just 4.2 per game. What's interesting about that is that Celtics opponents are averaging just 14.4 attempts from downtown -- almost 2.0 shots fewer than the Pacers' hapless opponents are trying.
I suspect the Celtics' staunch defense against the 3 is an aberration. But let's see how the Portland Trail Blazers -- who are averaging the fifth-most triples -- fare against them Friday.
Week 4 at a Glance
This would be a good week to talk about the Los Angeles Clippers -- except, from a fantasy standpoint, you know what you're getting. In Week 4, the Clippers play five times -- a phenomenon I've taken to calling a Wonderful Calendar Coincidence (WCC). The problem in this case, of course, is that every Clipper of fantasy relevance is already rostered in every league. So to the owners of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and DeAndre Jordan, enjoy this twist in the schedule. The rest of us will just wait for the next WCC. (Hint: It will arrive in time for Christmas.)
This would also be a good week to talk about the Los Angeles Lakers -- except, from a schedule standpoint, they play just twice in Week 4. Yes, Jordan Hill (19.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in his first two starts) may be worth adding. Steve Blake (13.2 points, 7.8 assists and 2.8 3-pointers in his past five) is absolutely worth adding while Steve Nash is sidelined. Mike D'Antoni once made Chris Duhon fantasy-relevant. He can surely do the same for Blake. But both should stick to your bench for Week 4. Joining the Lakers in a week of relative idleness are the New Orleans Pelicans and the Toronto Raptors. Just to reiterate what you're already thinking, even with two games, you'll have no qualms about starting Anthony Davis.
"R" matchup ratings are based on 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 to 10 for that team's weekly schedule (R).
Players to Watch
Corey Brewer, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (@WSH, LAC, BKN, @HOU): I wrote about Brewer only two weeks ago, and while he's become one of the most popular adds in ESPN.com leagues, his availability remains above 50 percent. Brewer probably isn't worthy of being universally rostered -- and his 27-point outburst against the Cleveland Cavaliers, coming while Kevin Martin was out with the flu, is certainly an outlier. Still, the Wolves have been pretty much a five-man team to this point, so Brewer can be counted on for 30-plus minutes, double-digit scoring, a few 3s and a bunch of steals. With that in mind, Houston Rockets opponents rank fourth in 3s and seventh in steals.
Jordan Crawford, PG/SG, Boston Celtics (@HOU, @SA, IND, @ATL): In his past four games, Crawford averaged 15.0 points, 6.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.8 3s. Being the facilitator he's become in Boston certainly makes him appealing, though in my case I'm always braced for Crawford's next clanking spree -- he's a career 40.5 percent shooter. That could come in Week 4, since opponents of the Pacers, Rockets and San Antonio Spurs all rank in the bottom five in field-goal percentage.
John Henson, PF, Milwaukee Bucks (POR, @PHI, CHA): With Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders sidelined, you'd think Henson would see even more minutes -- but he's topped 27 minutes just once so far. Nonetheless, the second-year pro is making the most of his limited court time, with 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over his past six games. While an intriguing talent, Henson's 52.6 percent foul shooting (on 2.7 attempts) poses a slight problem, as does this three-game set: Trail Blazers opponents are only 28th in blocks.
Robin Lopez, C, Portland Trail Blazers (@BKN, @MIL, CHI, @GS): Back to the department of redundancy for Lopez, another player I discussed just two weeks ago. In this case, I'll mention that Lopez is playing 30 minutes a night for the first time in his career, so he's worth your attention. After a less-than-stellar start with his new team, Lopez has reeled off three straight double-doubles. The boards should keep coming with this schedule. Milwaukee opponents are tops in rebound differential, while Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors opponents rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in this regard. In addition, Chicago Bulls opponents lead the way in rejections. Available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Lopez is a strong add for Week 4.
Markieff Morris, PF, Phoenix Suns (@SAC, SAC, @CHA, @ORL): Coming off a four-game run in which he averaged 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals, Morris is now rostered in virtually every ESPN.com league. Illness helped limit him to eight points against the Blazers on Nov. 13, but he should be fine going forward. So what can new Morris owners expect in Week 4? According to this schedule, fewer steals but perhaps more 3s. Sacramento Kings opponents rank dead last in thefts, though they are seventh in buckets from downtown. Speaking of misleading small sample sizes, Morris' current 60.0 percent shooting looks pretty unsustainable against his career 41.7 mark. Granted, the 24-year-old has never had consistent playing time, but I remain a Morris skeptic.
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.