Commentary

If You're Hard-Core: Post-break slates

Updated: February 24, 2012, 6:22 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

All-Star Weekend is a crucial juncture on the fantasy schedule. It's a time to take stock. Maybe take the kids shopping or watch the NFL combine with the wife. Personally, I'd recommend ditching all that and just go to All-Star Weekend. That's not even true; just go to the Legends Brunch. Trust me.

The break is an opportunity for owners to take a hard look at their rosters without new box scores flying all over the place.

And of course, it's the beginning of the run-up to the trade deadline. Just like with the actual NBA, fantasy owners should use the weekend to start deadline-deal negotiations, because the clock is officially ticking.

When you're considering deadline deals, a key component of your decision-making process should include schedule analysis.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lin
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe Knicks have already played more than half their games this season, which could affect some raw fantasy totals after the break.

You're probably already reading at least one "The Week Ahead"-style column to help gauge your lineup decisions. Over the course of a season, you'll gain a feel for how impactful the layout of games on a team's calendar can be on fantasy outcomes.

This week, I want to go a little deeper by putting together a list of the NBA teams that play the best and worst fantasy schedules.

I like to approach this three ways. The first two are standard: games played and home/road splits. Some teams play as many as 36 games after the break, while some play only 31. That may not seem like much at first glance, but that's a 14 percent swing in possible production.

A big swing in games played means the most to your top-shelf players, the ones who you'd never dream of substituting. Fringe players can always be cut and re-added. But when considering a marquee trade, it's just plain roto negligence not to do a little bean counting before hitting "accept" or "decline."

As you're about to see, throwing out all other factors, any Warriors player is going to be 14 percent better in the second half than a Pistons, Nets, Bulls, Knicks or Nuggets player. And those figures are not subject to heavy interpretation. You can't discount hard data.

It's been a year featuring wild extremes with home/road splits. Take a closer look at the team-wide totals; they might defy some conventional wisdom. While Atlanta is 6.5 points a night better at home, Denver is four points per game better on the road.

A third wrinkle I'll add: How many of a team's remaining games are against fantasy-friendly NBA squads and how many are against squads that play the slow-down, low-paced style that tends to depress box scores?

In case you haven't committed my previous column to memory, the friendliest are Washington, Sacramento, New Jersey, Charlotte and Denver. The least numerically inviting: Boston, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago, Philadelphia and Orlando. For this exercise, I'll add a couple of teams on each side, with Phoenix and Golden State joining the ranks of the Fantasy Boosters, and Dallas and Atlanta joining the Fantasy Buzzkills.

With all this in mind, let's take a look at the NBA teams with the best and worst remaining schedules, and which players are rising and falling as a result.

(I'll also add which teams still have two back-to-back-to-back series to go, since we've all witnessed how those have hurt -- literally and figuratively -- many NBA players this campaign.)

Worst

New York Knicks (31 games, 13 home/18 away, 12 Buzzkill games)
Players most affected: Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith
One of the biggest questions in fantasy after the break will be how, in a post-Linsanity world, production is distributed up and down the Knicks' rotation. For all the hype over Lin, Anthony and Stoudemire, the Knicks have been a middle-of-the-road offensive team. Their scoring has picked up a little lately, but certainly not enough to vault the Knicks into Oklahoma City territory.

It's been interesting to watch all of the projections over how Lin and Anthony will coexist. The truth is, no one's quite sure. Yes, Anthony is a ball-movement serial killer, but he's also capable of sublimating his more Iverson-ian tendencies. Pay attention to how minutes are split in New York's backcourt. Smith's arrival, along with all the recent Baron Davis sightings, mean fewer touches all around.

[+] EnlargeBrook Lopez and Dwight Howard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesBoth Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard are scheduled to play just 31 games after the All-Star break, although that's highly contingent on what might happen at the trade deadline.

Orlando Magic (31 games, 15 home/16 away, 7 Buzzkill games)
Players most affected: Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson
March 15, 3 p.m. ET. That's all you really need to know when projecting the Magic. The question is: If and when Howard is dealt, will he be going to a more fantasy-friendly situation? Unless he goes to New Orleans or Charlotte, the answer will most likely be "yes."

The lack of games really hurts the fantasy comeback prospects for Richardson and Nelson. Both players showed signs of life after wildly disappointing first halves.

Denver Nuggets (31 games, 16 home/15 away, 6 Buzzkill games)
Players most affected: Nene, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Miller, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler
I could have listed two or three more guys here. It's a frustrating fantasy situation. Despite the Nuggets' prodigious offensive output, they remain relatively barren in fantasy because of a conflagration of injuries, timeshares and the Chinese playoffs. Or had you forgotten about Wilson Chandler?

He's coming back soon, and the Nuggets have the right to match any offer he receives on the open market. But adding Chandler (one of my favorite players) will only muddy the waters to a rate of high-roto viscosity.

Chicago Bulls (31 games, 18 home/13 away, 7 Buzzkill games)
Players most affected: Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah
The Bulls are actually affected negatively by the 18 road games, since they play two points a night better away from the United Center. Like the Magic, the Bulls will be involved in a lot of trade talks leading up to the deadline. If something happens, you can bet it will involve Boozer. But the weak schedule is another ding, as well as Rose's back concerns.

Detroit Pistons (31 games, 15 home/16 road, 10 Buzzkill games, 2 back-to-back-to-backs)
Players most affected: Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Jonas Jerebko
If you're thinking about dealing for Knight and/or Monroe, take a breath before you commensurate the deal. While I'm a huge fan of both players' upside, the lack of games and tough slate of opponents are not good signs that you'll be snaring equal value in a trade. I'd still own either player in a heartbeat, but remember they both are sporting big red flags for the duration.

One under-the-radar Pistons player I still like is Prince. He has quietly clawed his way back onto the fantasy radar over the last month and provides the across-the-board kind of stat lines that will help owners every night.

New Jersey Nets (31 games, 17 home/14 road, 5 Buzzkill games, 2 back-to-back-to-backs)
Players most affected: Deron Williams, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks
The woebegone Nets will be trying any and everything down the stretch in an attempt to give Williams some reasons to stay. It could be a trade. It could be an attempt to manufacture their own Lin situation with a D-League call-up. Their small forward spot could be one to watch for a late-season bloomer.

Best

Golden State Warriors (36 games, 15 home/21 away, 6 Booster games)
Players most affected: Ekpe Udoh, Dorell Wright, Brandon Rush, Klay Thompson, Nate Robinson
They might be in the middle of a mediocre campaign, but there's a ton of second-half fantasy potential on the Warriors' roster. And the 21 road games aren't a factor because the Warriors post near-identical numbers in their home/road splits.

I'm really interested to see how up-and-coming Udoh and Thompson perform down the stretch. Thompson is intriguing because Stephen Curry and Monta Eliis are getting increasingly banged up, which means an opportunity for some scoring-needy minutes. Think Jordan Crawford with the Wizards in the closing weeks of last season after Nick Young bowed out. And Udoh is the kind of player who could win blocks for the whole week in a single night.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Clippers
Steve Dykes/US PresswireThe Clippers have a few extra games after the All-Star break to show their stuff.

Los Angeles Clippers (35 games, 17 home/18 away, 12 Booster games, 2 back-to-back-to-backs)
Players most affected: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Mo Williams
If you're looking for an edge in a Chris Paul/Deron Williams swap, look no further. As long as Paul remains somewhat ambulatory, NBA schedule-makers have handed him a chance to go an absolute tear. Shooting guard will be a position of particular interest. With J.R. Smith on the Knicks, Foye is going to get a steady diet of 30 minutes a night, unless the Clippers make another move.

Cleveland Cavaliers (35 games, 16 home/19 road, 10 Booster games)
Players most affected: Kyrie Irving, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, Antawn Jamison
Here's a good example of how scheduling can affect a trade. Would you rather have the still-blossoming Irving down the stretch or worldwide sensation Jeremy Lin? Right now, most would scream "Lin," but Irving has a very inviting slate of upcoming contests.

Utah Jazz (34 games, 15 home/19 away, 11 Booster games)
Players most affected: Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward
It's still hard to recommend anyone here on a night-in, night-out basis other than Jefferson and Millsap. Hayward remains intriguing, but there could be a second-half success story brewing with Howard. He posted back-to-back throwback box scores right before the break, going for 19 points and six rebounds Wednesday against the Timberwolves.

Boston Celtics (34 games, 14 home/20 road, 7 Booster games)
Players most affected: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo
The Celtics' aged core will go one of two ways: It gather its pride to go on one more vengeance ride of a late-season run, or continue its slow decline to mediocrity, somnambulistically playing out the string with a hope of sneaking into the eighth seed.

Charlotte Bobcats (34 games, 19 home/15 road, 10 Booster games)
Players most affected: Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaw, Gerald Henderson
Even with the extra games, I'm down on the Bobcats' backcourt situation. Walker and Augustin have been sort of working in the short term, but Henderson's pending return is going to siphon minutes from them in a pretty big way. Biyombo is well-worth owning in most leagues because of his insane upside in blocked shots. Like Udoh, he's the kind of guy who can lock down an entire category for an entire week single-handed.

John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JPCregan.

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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