Fantasy basketball forecaster: Dec. 4-10

Is this the week that Elfrid Payton finally returns to the form we saw late last season? Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic have four games this week and rate a solid "6" in our forecaster table (below). They also feature a player of interest to me: Elfrid Payton. I drafted Payton in several leagues this season, because I believed that he was ready for a breakout season. Payton was a lottery pick in 2014 and is playing in his fourth season as a 23-year-old. The biggest knock on Payton has long been his jump shot (or lack thereof), but after the All-Star break last season, he seemed to be putting things together. To wit:

2017 pre-All Star game: 12.5 PPG (45.7 FG%, 66.4 FT%), 5.7 APG, 3.8 RPG

2017 post-All Star game: 13.5 PPG (50.5 FG%, 74.3 FT%), 8.4 APG, 7.0 RPG

Payton became a nightly triple-double threat down the stretch of the 2016-17 season, notching five of them during his final 20 games of the season. Put everything together, and he was one of my favorite midround draftees (ADP 55.3, 18th point guard taken) who had early-round upside.

Only, through the first month-and-a-half of this season, Payton has struggled. The Player Rater values him at only 0.41, 46th among point guards alone. What happened?

In short, injury happened. Specifically, he's been dealing with a lingering hamstring issue that caused him to miss several games, then limited him in both minutes and ability even after he was able to return to the court.

However, in recent weeks, Payton seems to be getting healthy. And that health is starting to translate into production. He has three borderline dominant games in his past five outings; and in those five outings, he is averaging 15.6 points (59.6 FG%, 55 FT%), 7.2 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 2.4 turnovers and 1.0 3-pointers per game. The free throw percentage is lacking, but the rest of his game seems to be coming along.

Thus, I'll be keeping a close eye on Payton next week. Our forecaster rates the Magic's schedule as a "6," with four games against fairly beatable defenses. If Payton really is rounding into form, he should have a good week ahead of him. And if you notice this happening, and the Payton owner in your league is still paying attention to his low mark in the Player Rater, this could be an excellent time to trade for the wild-haired young guard out of Orlando. In my estimation, his (by-far) best is still yet to come.

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.

The week ahead

There are a lot of games played this week, with 19 teams playing four games each, six teams playing three games each, and five teams playing only twice. Because so many teams play full four-game slates, it is very important that you maximize your own stable of players in weekly leagues. There is a high likelihood that your opponent is going to have a bunch of games, so you need to do the same for your squad.

Thus, if you have a player on the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Miami Heat or Portland Trail Blazers, then you have some decisions to make this week, because each of those teams has only two games. Per our forecaster, the Heat and the Lakers have the worst schedules of the week, each netting a "1" on our scale of 1-10, with both games on the road and at least one strong defensive opponent each.

The Trail Blazers and Rockets both earned a "2" on our scale. The Trail Blazers will have both games at home, and both opponents measure out as fairly light defensively. The Rockets play both games on the road, with one easy and one challenging defense, but their own offense is so potent that they still merited a "2" overall.

The Clippers have the "best" schedule among two-game teams, with two home games against very light opponents. According to our forecaster, the Clippers then might be roughly as valuable next week as the Nets, who have three games but against tough opponents.

However, even the most challenging of the four-game schedules rated at least a "5" in our system. And this translates through to your decision-making process, because that helps reflect the notion that if a player has fewer games, he'll have to perform dramatically better than a player with more games.

Now, like every other predictive tool, you have to use the forecaster with a grain of salt and heavily sprinkle your own level of common sense in. If your choice is between, for example, James Harden's two games or a free-agent guy with four, you're still going to want to start your best player. However, if your choice is two tough games of Goran Dragic vs. four games of relatively good matchups from Donovan Mitchell, then in this case you might want to go with the forecaster numbers.

In points-based leagues the decisions may be a bit easier, because you can just multiply a player's average by the number of games played to get a general expected value, then correct a bit using the forecaster to account for matchups. But in rotisserie or roto H2H situations, the forecaster can help quantify scheduling differences to help make more difficult decisions.