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Fantasy basketball forecaster for Feb. 27 - March 5

NBA deadline trades have created opportunities for statistical growth by Nerlens Noel and TJ Warren. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The final day of trading in the NBA wasn't defined by marquee moves, rather teams seeking defensive upgrades. The biggest deadline splash was likely the Dallas Mavericks landing Nerlens Noel from the 76ers for what is effectively two second-round picks and Justin Anderson heading to Philly.

I've already endorsed Noel as my breakout pick for the final six weeks of the season. The reasoning is somewhat simple: Noel claims ridiculous per-36 rates of 16.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 2.7 steals this season. As ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton notes in his evaluation of the trade, Noel currently leads the league (minimum 500 minutes) in steals per 100 possessions.

During the past 10 seasons, there have been just five instances of a player averaging at least 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks, and Noel claims two of these seasons. With the expectation for a sizable surge in minutes, Noel is an ideal addition -- he's available in free agency in nearly 40 percent of ESPN Leagues -- on the doorstep of a dominant defensive breakout in Dallas.

For analysis of other meaningful recent deals, Joe Kaiser deftly discussed Serge Ibaka's shift to Toronto and the Boogie blockbuster with an eye on fantasy implications. For a more under-the-radar beneficiary at the deadline, we should highlight the Phoenix Suns' TJ Warren. The Raptors netted stout perimeter defender P.J. Tucker from Phoenix on Thursday, which affords Warren -- who rates ninth among NBA forwards in points per touch this season -- an opportunity for an increased role. With .360 points per touch, Warren is an efficiency peer of Paul George, Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler. It will be interesting to see how Warren's usage and minutes increase, as he can provide positive returns in points, steals and 3-pointers if afforded a healthy workload.

The trade deadline in standard fantasy hoops league was Wednesday afternoon, so exploiting the waiver wire and free agency become a key determinant in competitive head-to-head formats. Warren, for example, is available in nearly three-quarters of ESPN leagues at the moment. We have just two more weeks of the regular season in standard head-to-head ESPN leagues, which means we should pay particularly close attention to Kaiser's rest-of-season schedule grid and our ratings model.


Access the downloadable forecaster chart PDF here

Matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup). These 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 left lists the team's total number of games scheduled as well as home games, and lists the overall rating from 1-10 for that team's weekly schedule.


Ratings roundup

Thanks to a friendly home stand against four Eastern foes, the Warriors are the lone team to earn a perfect rating in the coming week. This includes the Wizards visiting the Warriors in Oakland for a Tuesday night battle of the two top net ratings (Wizards 12.6, Warriors 12.2) over the past 10 games. In an encouraging turn, 11 teams in addition to Golden State enjoy ratings of at least seven points this week.

The ratings system values statistical allowances and games played, so it makes sense to see the Utah Jazz earn a favorable rating with three games against soft defensive opponents to finish out a four-game slate. Among the challenging specific schedules ahead, the Magic, Timberwolves and Nets each earn the lowest possible rating due to respectively difficult three-game schedules.

Rising ratings

With so many injuries and rotation changes around the league through these winter months, it becomes imperative to evaluate the league in specific samples. For example, over the past 15 days, we find a plethora of widely available shooting guards surging on the Player Rater, thanks to improved production and opportunity rates.

The Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart is proving particularly larcenous as a defender with 19 steals over his past five games, placing him third at the position pool on the Player Rater over the past 15 days. Even when Avery Bradley returns, Smart merits universal ownership for his defensive prowess. Stellar recent stretches from Cleveland's Kyle Korver (33.4 ownership percentage) and Denver's duo of Will Barton (54.7) and Gary Harris (38.3) earn each a spot in the top 11 among shooting guards over this sample.

It's simply a good time to stream combo guards; with players such as Tyler Johnson (58.3) and Seth Curry (43.9) maintaining strong usage patterns. For those in deeper leagues, acquiring Noel's new teammate in Dallas, Yogi Ferrell, adds name value and awesome usage potential, as the young point guard could enjoy rare shooting and distribution freedom in the wake of Deron Williams' buyout.

At the wing, I'm still enthused by Dario Saric's unique upside going forward. With 20.6 points, 7.4 boards and 2.2 3-pointers per game over the past five, Saric can thrive in consolidating a good portion of Ersan Ilyasova's shots and Noel's minutes in the weeks ahead.

Matchup metrics

There might not be a singular, all-encompassing stat for identifying good matchups for our fantasy players, but we do have some simple data points to consider when seeking differentiation. Defensive rating is merely the amount of points a team cedes per 100 possessions. Pace is one helpful indicator, as it measures possessions per 48 minutes. It makes sense, then, to consider the teams that drive up possessions on offense -- thus rating high in pace -- while also yielding the most points on a possession basis, thus claiming a coveted combo of matchup metrics.

We find this correlation working to our advantage when evaluating the Nuggets, as Denver has ceded the most points (115.5) per 100 possessions over the past 10 games, while also rating 10th in the league in pace (100.1) over this sample. The Suns, Lakers, Nets, and Magic all claim this inviting combination of allowance and pace.

Perusing a few of the columns of advanced metrics over the past 10 games -- such as rebounding rate, pace, and defensive rating -- can reveal actionable evidence towards making decisions in daily and seasonal management. We can also always turn to Vegas for some macro information, as implied point totals over, say, 210 points prove more inviting than games hovering around or below 200 points on a given slate.