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Fantasy Forecaster: Dec. 29-Jan. 4

Nets big man Mason Plumlee is on the rise. Could he be a better fantasy play than Brook Lopez? Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

After playing in every game of his first three years in the league, Brooklyn's Brook Lopez has been active for just 44 percent of the Nets' regular-season games since then (the start of the 2011-12 season).

In his return earlier this week from a lower-back ailment that sidelined him for eight games, Lopez came off the bench for the first time since his rookie season (back in November 2008). In the majority of such scenarios, we wouldn't infer or assume much about an oft-injured big man being eased back slowly into heavy minutes, but in this case, surging young center Mason Plumlee is staking a claim to an enduring share of minutes and usage on the block for Brooklyn.

Lopez was the 46th pick on average in ESPN live drafts results this season, but has offered investors only 15.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per night through 17 games (down from averages of 19.6/6.6/2.0 over the three previous seasons). The Stanford product is currently 43rd on our Player Rater among centers, an alarming distinction considering how shallow the position has proved already for fantasy purposes. Plumlee, meanwhile, is 10th among centers on the Player Rater over the past 15 days and fourth at the position over the past seven. Below you'll find just how successful Plumlee has been in his recent eight starts (entering Friday).

Mason Plumlee's game splits, 2014-15

Nets coach Lionel Hollins has already openly demanded better defensive work from Lopez, particularly in the rebounding department. On Friday afternoon in Boston, we found Lopez coming off the bench once again, with Plumlee starting and stuffing the stat sheet once again. Is this an enduring shift? It won't cost you much -- essentially the release of the weakest commodity on your roster -- to find out, as Plumlee is owned in just 37.6 percent of ESPN leagues as of press time.

The NBA schedule-makers clearly don't play fantasy basketball: The Warriors, Trail Blazers and Thunder are the only teams facing two-game slates for the coming week of NBA action. Otherwise, we find 14 teams playing three-game schedules with 13 afforded full four-game slates.

"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

30 for 30: ESPN Insider Joe Kaiser recently produced a comprehensive discussion of fantasy-relevant scenarios for all 30 NBA teams. I found this piece especially helpful while setting daily fantasy lineups -- and watching the "30 For 30" marathon -- on Christmas Eve. In the piece, Kaiser details how Wilson Chandler is due for even richer usage in the wake of another Danilo Gallinari injury. You can add Chandler for free in more than 30 percent of ESPN leagues. We also learn that in nearly 40 percent of leagues you'll find J.J. Redick next to a plus symbol, which is sort of crazy considering he's averaging 17.5 points and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range.

Rose rising: From the crack team at ESPN Stats & Info, we learn that Derrick Rose's minutes and scoring are surging of late. Thanks to a strong showing on Christmas Day, Rose now has at least 20 points in three straight games for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

Player pickups: Identifying players available in half or more of ESPN leagues

Shabazz Muhammad (owned in 45.5 percent of ESPN leagues), Minnesota Timberwolves: On nearly 28 minutes per night over the past 13 games, Muhammad has averaged 19 points and five rebounds on a healthy .525 field-goal percentage. The second-year swingman now has a gaudy 27.4 usage rate over the past 13 games, a rate that would rank third in the NBA over a full season by last season's standards. While you might assume such usage isn't sustainable for Muhammad, it appears more realistic when you consider he's third among NBA small forwards for the season in usage rate, behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Healthy fantasy production certainly is within reach in the wake of Corey Brewer being traded to Houston. Given our rule in this section limiting the discussion to players available in at least half of ESPN leagues, this should be the last time Muhammad is included.

Lou Williams (42.1), Toronto Raptors: Already a proven microwave, "Lou Will" ranks 16th among shooting guard-eligible commodities on the Player Rater over the past 15 days. With DeMar DeRozan not traveling with the team during this current road trip, Williams will continue to see a rich blend of usage (28 minutes per night over the past seven games with 2.3 3-pointers, 1.0 steal and 16.9 points per game) until at least Jan. 4, when the road trip concludes.

Wesley Johnson (8.1), Los Angeles Lakers: As if being Kobe Bryant's offseason workout partner wasn't enough to inspire more interest in Johnson as a fantasy commodity, it could be worth noting that he's eligible at shooting guard, small forward and power forward. Such versatility allows Johnson to shuffle across a fantasy roster, particularly at the shallow power forward position. Over his past 14 games, Johnson is averaging 1.9 3-pointers (converting .441 of his 4.2 attempts per night) along with a valuable combo of blocks (1.0 per game) and steals (.9).

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.