What an insane past few days in the Association. We witnessed Jabari Parker's season-ending knee injury, with our Joe Kaiser mapping out some rotation shifts we could see in Milwaukee. Parker was just finding his touch, too, utilizing his strengths (healthy midrange and paint shooting rates) while whittling down his weaknesses (removed an inefficient 3-point shot from his arsenal over his final 14 games).
Just a few days after Parker's injury, we found the rich getting richer, as the Celtics shipped enigmatic star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks. Kaiser again gives us the goods on the fantasy impact of this massive development, suggesting Celtics rookie Marcus Smart is primed to take the reins of a Boston offense second in the league in pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes). The Mavs, meanwhile, already claim a nearly historic offensive rating (number of points scored per 100 possessions) with an absurd 113.6 rating.
Lastly, we saw Kevin Durant drop 30 points in the first half on Thursday night in an epic shootout versus the Warriors. Durant's hot hand made him the first player since the ABA/NBA merger to score 30 points in less than 20 minutes, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. An ankle injury sidelined him late in the second quarter, ending what promised to be a signature showing from Durant. The injury appears somewhat minor upon initial reports, but given such a rich allotment of usage and minutes, if Durant were to miss multiple games, players like Reggie Jackson and Andre Roberson figure to see sizable surges in minutes and offensive involvement.
We're faced with another unique holiday-influenced week of NBA action. While the league loves to show off its product on Christmas Day, offering Thursday a solid slate in relative terms, we find no teams playing this upcoming Wednesday, often the busiest weeknight in the league. Due to Wednesday's void, 16 teams play three games this week, versus 10 last week, for example. Only two teams, neither of them premier fantasy resources (Detroit and Utah), play two games for the week, with 12 teams playing a four-game slate.
"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").
Timely trends: News and notes from around the league
Rebound rates: For the 2010 and 2011 seasons I covered the Philadelphia Phillies on a regular basis. From that experience I learned many simple and wise lessons from manager Charlie Manuel. Sayings like "If you score more runs you'll win" helped to make the monotony of the beat a bit more enjoyable. If he were a basketball coach, he'd likely coin a phrase along the lines of "someone has to miss for a guy to get a rebound." Indeed, Charlie. For a player to secure a rebound, he has to be afforded opportunities, at-bats if you will.
From the league's useful player tracking data we can find the players seeing the most rebounding opportunities (number of times a player is in a 3.5-foot vicinity of a rebound) per night. Some likely board-heavy candidates (DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins et al) litter the leaderboard in rebounding chances per game. While he's likely only a source of rebounds and blocks given an absolutely inept offensive skill set, the Pelicans' Omer Asik remains worthy in fantasy circles thanks to the league's seventh-best rebounding average (10.7) and eighth-most rebound chances per game (17.5). Playing next to the league's most dominant big man likely affords Asik some freedom to chase boards, as he averages 2.2 more rebounding chances per night than Anthony Davis. Regularly perusing the leaderboard in this unique statistic can illuminate widely available players like Gorgui Dieng (43.1 percent owned in ESPN leagues), Tristan Thompson (21.8) and Asik (54.9).
Soft setups: We are constantly seeking differentiating factors for setting our lineups in daily and weekly fantasy formats. One simple source for advantageous matchups would be the league's defensive rating database, which illuminates the number of points a given team allows to opponents per 100 possessions. The Lakers have been famously generous to offensive opponents, but we also find the likes of the Pelicans and Heat in the mix of soft defensive fronts. Last season, the Heat allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points per 100 opponent possessions and are currently allowing the sixth-most points per 100 possessions.
Player pickups: Identifying players available in half or more ESPN leagues
For this week's edition of this section we're focusing on shooting specialists.
Robert Covington (27 percent owned), Philadelphia 76ers: While he's no Robert Horry, some have already taken to calling Covington "Big Shot Bob." This is in part due to the fact the second-year forward is being afforded complete freedom to chuck from deep, averaging a gaudy 6.9 3-point attempts in December. Kyle Korver, for a point of reference, is averaging six shots from beyond the arc per game this month. Not only is Covington taking plenty of shots from deep, he's also making them, shooting a healthy 46 percent from beyond the arc in December. While some correction for his hot hand is due, Covington was a career 42 percent shooter from 3-point range in college. Most importantly, he's getting minutes and shots on a team starved for offense but committed to chasing a league-high pace (currently third in pace) under coach Brett Brown. The market is waking up to this valuable shooting specialist, but he could be a difference-maker for the next several weeks for those seeking a boost in 3-point production.
Patrick Beverley (55.1), Houston Rockets: We've witnessed Beverly's ownership and fantasy value fluctuate a great deal given durability issues for much of the season so far, but when he's on the court -- as he has been of late -- he's hoisting six 3-pointers a night for the month while playing a heavy 37.3 minutes per night. Using Korver again as the ideal comp among elite shooting specialists, Beverly is averaging 0.8 more attempts from beyond the arc per night than Atlanta's sharpshooter.
C.J. Miles (2.3 percent), Indiana Pacers: In similar fashion to Covington, Miles has been allocated freedom to shoot on a team desperate for spacing and scoring. Miles averaged 6.5 3-point attempts on 24.5 minutes per night in December. Sticking in Indiana, Rodney Stuckey (18.7) is a cheap and steady (at least nine points in every appearance and enduring freedom to shoot) option for those chasing points and assists in bunches for free.
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.