Commentary

Preseason Forecaster: Schedule impact

Updated: December 14, 2011, 10:32 AM ET
By Neil Tardy | Special to ESPN.com

The lockout-shortened 66-game season and the compressed schedule are certain to pose great challenges for NBA players and coaches. The impact on fantasy owners, however, should be minimal.

Of course, you'll want to follow the NBA schedule closely to help you set your lineups, just as you do every season. For this season specifically, in narrow instances, the modified schedule may lead you to reconsider how you value a small number of players for drafts and auctions. I suspect, though, plenty of fantasy owners, perhaps the majority of them, won't change their draft or auction strategy in the slightest. And I won't fault anyone for taking that approach.

Basically, I have two thoughts on how fantasy owners should approach this truncated season:

1. Don't overthink it.
2. It's the same for everyone.

A look back

I'll start with the second point. If the NBA's previous lockout season, 1998-99, is any guide, the on-court product will be impacted. The schedule back then was actually harsher than the one we're looking at for this season. Post-lockout, the 1998-99 season didn't start until Feb. 5. The league squeezed in a 50-game regular-season schedule in about three months. The playoffs didn't start until early May.

That season was shorter than normal -- and very short when it came to basketball aesthetics. Players clanked shots and offenses tanked. Teams averaged just 91.6 points per game in 1998-99, and shot a cumulative 43.7 percent from the field. By comparison, the league averaged 95.6 points and 45.0 percent shooting the previous season (1997-98) and 97.5 points and 44.9 percent shooting the following season (1999-00). It would seem that the statistical valley could be attributed almost entirely to the lockout-altered schedule.

The ESPN Stats & Information group looked at a collection of veteran players from that season, ranging from Charles Barkley and Mark Jackson to Scottie Pippen and Patrick Ewing. All were at least 30 years old and started in at least half of the 50 regular-season games. Of 28 players, 24 of them saw their shooting percentage decline from the 1997-98 season, and 19 saw their scoring decline.

But you know what? Fantasy owners still had their studs. While Karl Malone lost 3.2 points and 0.9 rebounds from his previous season's line, fantasy owners were fine with his 23.8 points and 9.4 boards. Hakeem Olajuwon, who had missed 35 games the previous season, had his final big year in 1998-99: 18.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. And at 36, the Dream played in every game. Another 36-year-old, John Stockton (11.1 points, 7.5 assists), also played in every game in 1998-99. And Malone, by the way, was 35 that season.

For this season, it's realistic to think that offenses will suffer and shooting percentages will fall. (Incidentally, the league averaged 99.6 points and 45.9 percent shooting in 2010-11.) Teams will probably go to their benches sooner, particularly in blowout games. Again though, it's the same for everyone. Don't assume that every veteran will wear down with the grueling schedule -- or least don't assume that veterans will wear down more than youngsters. Don't assume that every team playing on a third straight night will lose -- their opponents could well be playing for a fifth time in seven nights. It's a different schedule, but it's the same for everyone.

A look ahead

Speaking of the schedule, here's a glance at what's ahead for each of the 30 teams. For what it's worth, all teams have at least one set of three games in three nights, but no teams have more than two of those back-to-back-to-back assignments.

Atlanta Hawks
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Jan. 5-7 (MIA, @CHA, CHI); March 23-25 (NJ, @WAS, UTA).
Other schedule burns: Nine games in season's first 12 days, Dec. 27 to Jan. 7.
H2H playoff viability: Fair. 16 games total, only 10 in the first three weeks (March 26 to April 15).

Boston Celtics
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): April 13-15 (@TOR, @NJ, @CHA).
Other schedule burns: 13 games (10 away) in 21 days, March 6-26.
H2H playoff viability: Good. 18 games total, but only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

Charlotte Bobcats
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Jan. 12-14 (@ATL, DET, GS).
Other schedule burns: 15 games in season's first 23 days, Dec. 26 to Jan. 17.
H2H playoff viability: Excellent. 20 games total, including seven in final "week" (April 16-26).

Chicago Bulls
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Jan. 9-11 (DET, @MIN, WAS).
Other schedule burns: 16 games in season's first 24 days, Dec. 25 to Jan. 17.
H2H playoff viability: Fair. 16 games total, but only six in the second and third weeks (April 2-15).

Cleveland Cavaliers
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): April 13-15 (@IND, @WAS, ORL). Other schedule burns: 25 games in season's final 39 days, March 18 to April 26.
H2H playoff viability: Excellent. 20 games total, including seven in final "week" (April 16-26).

Dallas Mavericks
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): March 8-10 (@PHO, @SAC, @GS).
Other schedule burns: Seven games in nine days, March 2-10.
H2H playoff viability: Fair. 16 games total, only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

Denver Nuggets
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Dec. 31 to Jan. 2 (@LAL, LAL, MIL); Feb. 2-4 (@LAC, LAL, @POR).
Other schedule burns: 17 games in season's first 27 days, Dec. 26 to Jan. 21.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only three in second week (April 2-8).

Detroit Pistons
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 (@MIL, @NY, @NJ); April 17-19 (CLE, @ATL, MIN).
Other schedule burns: Five games in six days, Jan. 30 to Feb. 4; 26 games in the season's first 41 days, Dec. 26 to Feb. 4.
H2H playoff viability: Good. 18 games total, including six in final "week" (April 16-26).

Golden State Warriors
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): April 20-22 (@DAL, @HOU, @MIN).
Other schedule burns: Nothing glaring.
H2H playoff viability: Excellent. 19 games total, including seven in final "week" (April 16-26).

Houston Rockets
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Dec. 29-31 (SA, @MEM, ATL).
Other schedule burns: Nothing glaring.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only three in second week (April 2-8).

Indiana Pacers
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Feb. 14-16 (MIA, @CLE, NJ); March 22-24 (@WAS, PHO, @MIL).
Other schedule burns: 15 games in 22 days, March 10 to April 1.
H2H playoff viability: Excellent. 19 games total, including five in first week (March 26 to April 1).

Los Angeles Clippers
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Jan. 16-18 (NJ, @UTA, DAL); March 20-22 (@IND, @OKC, @NO).
Other schedule burns: 20 games in 31 days, March 1-31.
H2H playoff viability: Good. 18 games total, including six in final "week" (April 16-26).

Los Angeles Lakers
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Dec. 25-27 (CHI, @SAC, UTA).
Other schedule burns: 15 games in season's first 23 days, Dec. 25 to Jan. 16.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

Memphis Grizzlies
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): April 2-4 (@OKC, GS, @DAL).
Other schedule burns: 31 games in 52 days, Jan. 1 to Feb. 21.
H2H playoff viability: Excellent. 19 games total, including 10 in second and third weeks (April 2-15).

Miami Heat
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Feb. 12-14 (@ATL, @MIL, @IND).
Other schedule burns: 18 games in season's final 29 days, March 29 to April 26.
H2H playoff viability: Excellent. 19 games total, including seven in final "week" (April 16-26).

Milwaukee Bucks
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): March 22-24 (BOS, @CHA, IND).
Other schedule burns: Six games in eight days, March 20-27.
H2H playoff viability: Good. 18 games total, including six in final "week" (April 16-26).

Minnesota Timberwolves
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Jan. 8-10 (@WAS, @TOR, CHI); Feb. 28 to March 1 (@LAC, @LAL, @PHO).
Other schedule burns: Seven games in 10 days, Jan. 1-10.
H2H playoff viability: Fair. 16 games total, only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

New Jersey Nets
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Jan. 21-23 (OKC, CHA, @CHI); Feb. 18-20 (@CHI, MIL, @NY).
Other schedule burns: 14 games (10 away) in season's first 22 days, Dec. 26 to Jan. 16.
H2H playoff viability: Fair. 16 games total, but only eight in the final two weeks (April 9-26).

New Orleans Hornets
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Feb. 20-22 (@OKC, @IND, @CLE).
Other schedule burns: 18 games in 31 days, March 2 to April 1.
H2H playoff viability: Good. 18 games total, including five in first week (March 26 to April 1).

New York Knicks
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Feb. 2-4 (CHI, @BOS, NJ).
Other schedule burns: 15 games in 24 days before All-Star break, Jan. 31 to Feb. 23.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only three in second week (April 2-8).

Oklahoma City Thunder
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Jan. 6-8 (HOU, @HOU, SA).
Other schedule burns: 7 games in season's first 10 days, Dec. 25 to Jan. 3.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only three in first week (March 26 to April 1).

Orlando Magic
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Jan. 16-18 (@NY, CHA, SA).
Other schedule burns: 24 games in 39 days, Jan. 16 to Feb. 23.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only three in second round (April 2-8).

Philadelphia 76ers
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Jan. 9-11 (IND, SAC, @NY); April 16-18 (@ORL, IND, @CLE).
Other schedule burns: Five games in six days, Jan. 9-14.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total; only 10 during the first three weeks, but seven in final "week" (April 16-26).

Phoenix Suns
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Feb. 13-15 (@GS, @DEN, ATL); March 14-16 (UTA, @LAC, DET).
Other schedule burns: 14 games in 22 days, Feb. 1-22.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, only three in first week (March 26 to April 1).

Portland Trail Blazers
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): Jan. 23-25 (SAC, MEM, @GS); Feb. 14-16 (WAS, @GS, LAC).
Other schedule burns: 20 games in 33 days, Jan. 20 to Feb. 21.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games, but only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

Sacramento Kings
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Jan. 3-5 (@MEM, @DEN, MIL).
Other schedule burns: Eight games in season's first 11 days, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
H2H playoff viability: Good. 18 games, including five in second week (April 2-8), but only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

San Antonio Spurs
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): March 23-25 (DAL, @NO, PHI); April 16-18 (@GS, @LAL, @SAC).
Other schedule burns: Nothing glaring.
H2H playoff viability: Excellent. 19 games total, only three in first week (March 26 to April 1) but eight in final "week" (April 16-26).

Toronto Raptors
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Jan. 9-11 (MIN, @WAS, SAC).
Other schedule burns: 10 games in 14 days, Jan. 1-14.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

Utah Jazz
Back-to-back-to-back sets (1): Feb. 12-14 (@MEM, @NO, @OKC).
Other schedule burns: 19 games in 30 days, March 2-31.
H2H playoff viability: OK. 17 games total, but only five in final "week" (April 16-26).

Washington Wizards
Back-to-back-to-back sets (2): March 24-26 (ATL, @BOS, DET); April 4-6 (IND, @DET, @NJ).
Other schedule burns: 17 games (11 away) in 26 days, March 12 to April 6.
H2H playoff viability: Good. 18 games total, including six in final "week" (April 16-26).

The Schedule: Who could be hurt?

You really don't want to overthink the NBA schedule this season. Target the players you think will give you the best team, and then look at the matchups to help you make your best lineups, just like always.

I don't want to overthink this, either, but sometimes I can't help myself. I have been pondering players who I might steer away from in auctions and drafts, in part because of how I feel they'll deal with the compressed schedule.

On the one hand, I do believe you need to ask what Tim Duncan is worth to you. Gregg Popovich has long been judicious in his use of the future Hall of Famer, who will turn 36 at the end of the regular season. If Duncan received nights off in March and April in previous 82-game schedules, I have to think he'll be rested even more this spring. I also wonder what this lockout-altered season holds for his teammate, 34-year-old Manu Ginobili. While Ginobili played in 80 games last season and was stellar in the early going, his minutes and other stats did slip a bit in the second half.

The other thing I keep coming back to is that first lockout season, and the stark decline in scoring and shooting in '99. If we assume offensive numbers will suffer again, will players whose fantasy value is tied to scoring and strong shooting take the biggest hits?

When I say strong shooters, I don't mean fantasy's best in field goal percentage -- players such as Dwight Howard and Nene Hilario. Those guys get their offense at the basket. I'm thinking more of perimeter scorers, such as Eric Gordon, Ray Allen, Jason Richardson and Kevin Martin. Allen burned the nets at a rate of 49.1 percent last season. Accuracy is a huge part of his fantasy value. But what is Ray worth if he shoots only 45-46 percent this season? What if Martin slips to 41-42 percent (from 44.7 percent last season)? And even though he played in 80 games in 2010-11, Martin does have an injury history. Should he be viewed as a bigger injury risk this season?

This is just a theory, and I can already give you a reason not to bother with it: Reggie Miller. Go back to '99, and you'll see that Miller, a rather accomplished shooter, had a pretty good season. Now, his numbers did slide. In 1997-98, Miller averaged 19.5 points and 2.0 3-pointers while connecting at 47.7 percent. During the lockout season Miller, at 33, shot only 43.8 percent, but he still gave fantasy owners 18.4 points and 2.1 3s. I guess that's my point -- assume a decline in percentages from players like Allen, J-Rich and Martin. Don't write them off -- you're still going to need 3s and these guys will still help you -- but you may want to move them down in your rankings.

(All that said, I still love Gordon for this season. Love him.)

Remember, the ESPN.com Fantasy Forecaster offers a detailed breakdown of the schedule for each week of the NBA season. As we move toward the start of the regular season, I'll go into details about teams that start the season with a ton of games.

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

Neil Tardy | email

Fantasy Basketball
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com

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