For some time now, it's been clear that Philadelphia 76ers were playing to win ... the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery. In the interim they've become something of a lottery prize for fantasy owners.
The Sixers are, by far, the best opponents there are for fantasy purposes. I've probably mentioned this in every edition of the NBA Fantasy Forecaster so far, but let's take a moment to break it down.
As of Friday, the Sixers were the NBA's worst on a per-game basis in points against (109.1), 3-pointers allowed (10.9) and shots blocked (7.3). Did I say "worst"? It's "best," from our perspective, and it should only get better. The Sixers are poised to play 12 of their next 19 on the road, where they're only 1-6 so far.
Looking at their individual game box scores is, at least for me, a fun way to spend a morning.
Points: The Sixers have surrendered 5.6 more points than any other team. They're held their opposition under 100 points just twice in their first 16 games. Caron Butler put up 38 points in an overtime game against the Sixers on Nov. 22. He's scored more than 12 points in just two other games this season.
3s: The Sixers have actually been improving in this area. Their last three opponents -- the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic -- are a combined 17 for 66 (25.8 percent) from downtown. Still, you don't have to dig too deep to find some stunning stats. The Toronto Raptors, an average team in terms of 3-point production, went 14-of-29 from beyond the arc on Nov. 20. The Atlanta Hawks' DeMarre Carroll had five triples on Nov. 15. Carroll has only had one other game with more than one triple. He's shooting just 26.0 percent from downtown otherwise.
Blocks: The Raptors are also undistinguished when it comes to shot-blocking. Against the Sixers though, they accumulated nine rejections. In the past week, Nikola Vucevic (21 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Roy Hibbert (27 points, 13 boards, 6 blocks) posted monster lines versus the Sixers. OK, I'm being a little unfair there, since Spencer Hawes didn't play in either of those games. So I'll add that against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 18, with Hawes on the court, Samuel Dalembert amassed 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 27 minutes, and Dirk Nowitzki had 10 rebounds. Sure, Dirk's had a 10-rebound effort in every third game of his Hall of Fame career, but he's only averaging 6.3 boards this season, which would be his lowest mark since his rookie season in 1998-99.
The point is, the numbers generally get bigger when the Sixers are the opposition. Of course, they have talented players -- namely, Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Hawes -- and in former Gregg Popovich assistant Brett Brown, they have a coach who can get the most out of a roster. But they're also inexperienced; at 23.5 years, the Sixers are the league's most youthful team, per man almost a year younger than the second-place Charlotte Bobcats. They're thin on total talent and simply not very good defensively. Add in the fact that they're tops in pace, and fantasy owners are looking at 4 1/2 months more of endlessly exploitable match-ups.
Week 6 at a Glance
As of Friday, Martell Webster is the most popular add in ESPN.com leagues. Well guys, as much as I hate to harsh your post-Thanksgiving, tryptophan-induced mellow, I must inform you that the Washington Wizards play just twice in Week 6. In fact, after this weekend, the Wizards have only three games in the first 12 days of December. Bradley Beal will miss some time, but he shouldn't miss that many games. Meanwhile, the Bobcats, Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves will also lace it up for only two games in the week ahead.
"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
Patrick Beverley, PG, Houston Rockets (@UTA, PHX, GS, ORL): Though he's averaging just 9.7 points and 2.2 assists on 41.3 percent shooting, I'm sticking by my assertion that Beverley is one of fantasy's most undervalued commodities. Particularly with Jeremy Lin (knee) now looking at a two-week absence, Beverley should register a healthy number of 3s and steals for the time being. Actually the schedule contradicts me on that first part. Each of the Rockets' opponents in Week 6 is in the bottom third in 3-pointers allowed. The Utah Jazz, at least, are seventh in field-goal percentage and eighth in steals.
Glen Davis, PF, Orlando Magic (@WSH, @PHI, @NY, @HOU): Davis missed the first three weeks coming off of foot surgery, but in only his fourth game back, he played a season-high 35 minutes while scoring 19 points against -- who else? -- the 76ers on Nov. 27. He'll get the Sixers again, which gives me an opportunity to add that Philadelphia opponents have also piled up the fifth-most steals. New York Knicks and Wizards opponents are third and sixth, respectively, in rebound differential.
Channing Frye, PF/C, Phoenix Suns (@MEM, @HOU, TOR): Frye's reemergence is one of the nicest stories of the early season. After scoring in single digits in seven of his first eight games, Frye is averaging 18.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 3s over his past four. While Rockets opponents are third in treys, this isn't a hugely favorable schedule in terms of quantity or quality. But I'll note that, surprisingly to me at least, the Memphis Grizzlies haven't been the same team defensively that they were last season. Currently Grizzlies opponents are only 19th in 3s and 3-point shooting percentage, but a year ago they finished 28th and 29th in these categories.
Kosta Koufos, PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies (PHX, LAC, GS): With Marc Gasol (knee) sidelined, Koufos is expected to see the majority of minutes at center for the next few weeks. He won't contribute a lot offensively of course, but in his past two starts he's averaged 13.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. On that note, Koufos is worth adding in leagues of at least 12 teams, but there will be better weeks to start him. Suns and Los Angeles Clippers opponents are just 25th and 28th, respectively, in rejections.
Rodney Stuckey, SG, Detroit Pistons (@MIA, @MIL, @CHI, MIA): The second-most added player in ESPN.com leagues over the past seven days, Stuckey has put up at least 16 points in eight straight games. Stuckey is thriving in a reserve role, where he's had the ball put in his hands and been given the chance to close out games. Still, it's tough to imagine the career 42.4 percent shooter (and just 29.1 percent from downtown) can possibly maintain his current percentages long-term -- short-term could be another matter, though. Miami Heat opponents are second in 3s, and Bucks opponents are third 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.