Editor's note: Jim McCormick is sitting in for André Snellings on this week's Forecaster. Weekly rankings will return next week.
In weekly transaction leagues, the schedule is one of the most important factors in determining how to fill out your fantasy basketball lineups. All fantasy teams have a hierarchy of player calibers, with a set of "best players" surrounded by a cast of lesser but still productive players from which to draw your weekly starting lineup.
All things being equal, a manager would start their best players every week and fill out the rest of their lineup based on things such as matchups. However, all things aren't equal.
The schedule changes the bottom line, because teams can play a different number of games, against a different caliber of opponents, with different breakdowns of home vs. road, back-to-backs, rest nights, etc. All of these things matter, and as I've seen this season, they often matter more than a player's caliber.
For example, would you rather get two games of a great player at 35 minutes per night against tough competition, or four games of a lesser player at 30 minutes per night against high-paced, weak competition? When looking at it quantitatively, it's surprising (to me) how often the correct answer is actually the lesser player -- yes, based on schedules, sometimes even star players should sit for a week.
Thus, below, we have the Forecaster, which provides a scheduling and matchup tool to help you make better-informed lineup decisions for the upcoming week.
Without further ado, let's check out the Forecaster.
The week ahead
The NBA schedule has undeniably recovered from the All-Star break, as we find an astounding 20 teams playing four games this week, a feat matched in only one other week this season; Week 14, or the week of January 20th for those who don't quantify the NBA in such NFL-like terms. No NBA team plays just two games this week, marking the first week of the 26-week campaign to not include a two-game schedule for a given team. There are three such weeks on the schedule this year, with the other two closing out the month of March.
Such an equitable distribution of games helps foster more congruent player comparisons in that fantasy managers won't face limiting two-game schedules from some star players, for example, and can directly weigh decisions based on discernable factors such as health, production and opportunity rates.
When it comes to teams that rate particularly well this week based on scheduling dynamics, it's unsurprising to see the dominant Milwaukee Bucks earn one of just two perfect 10 ratings. All the Bucks have done this season through February is outscore their opponents by 756 points, tied for the largest points differential through 59 games in NBA history, along with the 1971-72 Bucks and 2016-17 Warriors. Milwaukee's average net rating (or margin of victory) is +12.8 PPG, which would be the most in a season in NBA history, even ahead of the 1971-72 Lakers (+12.3), who owned a record 33-game winning streak.
More specifically for Milwaukee this week, we find them set with a choice schedule beginning with a visit to Miami to face a reeling Heat team, which ranks 22nd in defensive rating (114.7 points per 100 possessions) during the past 10 games, and continues with a solid matchup against the Suns. Friday night features arguably the marquee regular-season matchup of the season with Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James dueling in Los Angeles.
The other ideal 10 rating is claimed by the surging young Pelicans, as New Orleans has two stellar matchups with the Minnesota Timberwolves in store amid a friendly four-game schedule. Sandwiched between matchups with a Wolves team playing sans Karl-Anthony Towns and rating 29th in defensive rating during the past 10 games, we find a visit to face a Dallas team that rates 20th in defense over this sample and the regressing Heat.
The Grizzlies, fresh from a stellar showing against the Lakers over the weekend, enjoy an encouraging 9 rating this coming week, thanks to two matchups with an Atlanta team depleted at center and set with the 28th-ranked defense for both the season and the past 10 games. Meetings with Brooklyn and Dallas don't pose major defensive challenges to Ja Morant & Co., either. It's a good week to stock up, then, on shares of Dillon Brooks, who is available in free agency in roughly two-thirds of ESPN leagues.
Among the sneaky-good schedules on tap this week, the Wizards enter with an 8 rating, given four games on the docket, including meetings with the Heat, Hawks and a Trail Blazers group that sits just 27th in defensive rating the past 10 games. The small-ball Rockets face some weak Eastern foes in the Knicks and Hornets to earn an 8 rating, as they tend to avoid clubs with dominant frontcourts for much of the week.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Warriors sit with a lowly 1 rating, given three games all against defenses that rank in the top 11. The Pistons' youth movement doesn't appear so appealing this week with meetings against the stout defenses and slow paces of Oklahoma City and Utah.
Of quality NBA teams with subpar setups, the Clippers sit at a modest 4 rating, thanks to playing just three games. Countering the quantitative score would be a bit of qualitative analysis that suggests the team is finding its stride in that the Clippers just contested 87% of the Nuggets shots this Friday, their highest percentage this season, while LA also moved to 7-0 in games in which its top eight scorers played. Six of those contests have come this month -- which is to say, the Clippers are rounding into form late in the season, something that might lag a bit in the statistical model.
Philly has a comparably meager 4 rating, and one could argue the team merits a lower distinction, given the Sixers are likely to be without Joel Embiid (shoulder) and Ben Simmons (back) for this week's western swing. With only one true soft spot with the Warriors on Saturday night to conclude their road trip, the saving grace for the 76ers might just be readily available streaming options on the roster such as Shake Milton.
Forecaster 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 season-to-date and past-10-games statistics, opponents' numbers in those categories and 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 to 10 for that team's weekly schedule.